High blood pressure is a condition which typically causes no noticeable symptoms. The only way to know for certain if you have high blood pressure (or hypertension) is to have your blood pressure checked.

You can do this at your GP surgery, however some pharmacies also offer this service too. There are also some self testing kits available which enable you to check your blood pressure at home.

In cases where someone’s blood pressure is very high, they may notice some signs such as chest pain, passing blood when urinating, irregular heartbeat and a pounding sensation in the chest or ears. This should be treated as a medical emergency, and be brought to the attention of a doctor immediately.

However, as we’ll discuss, it is absolutely possible for blood pressure to be dangerously high and cause no outward signs. In fact, someone may not know that they have high blood pressure until they start to experience heart problems or other complications.

The truth about high blood pressure symptoms

Over the years, certain symptoms have wrongly come to be directly associated with high blood pressure. Among these are:

  • facial redness or a ‘ruddy’ complexion;
  • regular nosebleeds;
  • sleeping problems;
  • or an increased susceptibility to feelings of stress or nervousness.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should notify your GP all the same. However, while these symptoms can certainly be present at the same time as high blood pressure, they are not necessarily indicators of the condition.

In actuality, high blood pressure typically causes no noticeable outward signs, until it has developed into an extreme state, called hypertensive crisis (which incidentally, may cause nosebleeds or severe anxiety).

How can I tell if I have high blood pressure?

Because it causes no obvious symptoms, getting your blood pressure checked is the only way to determine if you have high blood pressure.

People over the age of 40 will usually have blood pressure checks carried out by their GP every five years, or more frequently if they are at increased risk of developing the condition.

Sometimes persons under the age of 40 will also have regular testing, again if they are predisposed to high blood pressure for any reason.

Tests are carried out using a blood pressure monitor, which uses a stethoscope and a special cuff.

Home testing devices are also available, but you should make sure your model is approved by the British Hypertension Society before purchase.

What is hypertensive crisis?

When a person’s blood pressure rises to critical levels, this is defined as hypertensive crisis. A blood pressure reading of 180 systolic or 110 diastolic or more is indicative of hypertensive crisis, and should be treated as a medical emergency.

Physical signs of hypertensive crisis might include:

  • difficulty breathing;
  • sight problems;
  • severe headache;
  • fatigue;
  • chest pain;
  • heart palpitations;
  • nosebleeds;
  • passing blood in urine;
  • or pronounced anxiety.

This can lead to very serious complications, and needs to be addressed by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Getting tested

Knowing your numbers can help you to spot high blood pressure before it develops into a serious health issue, and get the treatment you need. If you haven’t been tested recently or think you may be at risk, make an appointment with your GP to have your blood pressure checked.

Page last reviewed:  07/10/2020 | Next review due:  27/11/2021