High blood pressure and stroke: reduce your risk

People from African and African Caribbean communities are more at risk of high blood pressure and stroke than the general population. Find out how to reduce your risk.

Blood pressure is the force that blood exerts on the walls of your arteries. If your blood pressure is high (hypertension), it puts you at greater risk of a strokeheart attack and kidney problems. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so you can only find out whether you have it if you're checked by a doctor, nurse or pharmacist. 

Stroke

A stroke is a "brain attack". It happens when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted. This is often caused by a narrowing of blood vessels due to a build-up of fatty material on the artery walls (atherosclerosis) or by blood clotting. Older people and those with high blood pressure, uneven heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), high cholesterol and diabetes also have a higher stroke risk.

The main ways to prevent high blood pressure and stroke are:

  • eating a healthy diet
  • taking regular exercise
  • not smoking
  • drinking alcohol in moderation

Professor Graham MacGregor of the Blood Pressure Association says, “It’s not fully understood why African Caribbean people are likely to have high blood pressure. However, we know that a healthy diet, exercise and awareness can make a vital difference to preventing early death from stroke, heart attack or heart disease.”

You can take steps to reduce your risk of high blood pressure (see below). They will also help lower blood pressure if it is already high, and reduce your risk of having a stroke.

Stop smoking

Smoking doubles your risk of a stroke because it causes the arteries to become "furry" and makes the blood more likely to develop clots. Find out about getting help to stop smoking.

Drink sensibly

Drinking too much alcohol raises blood pressure. If you keep your alcohol intake within the healthy guidelines, the occasional drink will not increase blood pressure or stroke risk. Recommended limits are:

  • two-to-three units a day for women
  • three-to-four units a day for men

Use the alcohol unit calculator to find out how much you're drinking, and get tips to cut down on alcohol.

Have a healthy diet

“Everyone can lower their blood pressure by including lots of fruit and vegetables in their diet,” says Graham. Aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables (fresh, tinned, dried, frozen or juice) every day. You can find out more about getting your 5 A DAY.

You can cut down on salt (which is a major cause of high blood pressure) by checking the labels of processed foods and not adding salt to your food. Read more on cutting down salt.

Try to cut down on foods that have been marinated or preserved in salt. “We recommend using fresh herbs and spices instead of very salt-rich seasonings,” says Graham.

You can lower your intake of saturated fat (which hardens the arteries) by avoiding or eating less red meat. Eat fish and poultry, such as chicken, without the skin instead.

Get active

Regular exercise (at least 30 minutes, five times a week) helps lower blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke. You don’t have to go to the gym. You can do any activity that leaves you feeling slightly out of breath. This could be walking, dancing or gardening, for example. Find out more about exercise and keeping active.

If you're not used to exercising, take it slowly at first. If you have high blood pressure or have had a stroke, talk to your doctor about the right level of exercise for you. 

Signs of stroke

The Stroke Association’s Face Arm Speech Test (FAST) lists the main symptoms to look out for:

  • Facial weakness. Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
  • Arm weakness. Can the person raise both arms?
  • Speech problems. Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?
  • Test all three symptoms. If you have any of these signs, call 999. Acting fast reduces the risk of death or disability.

Hypertension

High blood pressure has no symptoms, but if it's not treated it can damage the kidneys, heart and brain.

Media last reviewed: 22/11/2013

Next review due: 22/11/2015

Page last reviewed: 11/06/2012

Next review due: 11/06/2014

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 14 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

User363614 said on 30 October 2010

Salt contributes to high blood pressure by retaining water, doesn't carbohydrate also retain water?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Services near you

Find addresses, phone numbers and websites for services near you

Tools

Say no to salt

Dietitian Azmina Govindji talks about the risks associated with eating too much salt, such as high blood pressure. Find out how much your daily salt intake should be, what foods are high in salt and how to understand food labels.

Media last reviewed: 09/09/2013

Next review due: 09/09/2015

Eating well on a budget

In this video, dietitian Azmina Govindji gives advice on how to eat healthily on a budget.

Media last reviewed: 14/05/2013

Next review due: 14/05/2015

Black health

Conditions that are more common among African and African Caribbean people, and how to reduce your risk

Kidney health

Find out about how to look after your kidneys and whether you need to have them checked

Healthy hearts

Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the UK. Find out what to do to keep your heart fit for purpose