High blood pressure and diabetes

Lesley Dobson / 31 May 2017

Both diabetes and high blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Find out how to protect your health.



What should your blood pressure be if you have diabetes?

Having diabetes means that you are more likely to have high blood pressure. Figures from Blood Pressure UK show that about 25% of people with Type 1 diabetes have high blood pressure. About 80% of people with Type 2 diabetes have high blood pressure.

Because both diabetes and high blood pressure can increase your risk of a number of conditions, including heart disease, kidney disease and stroke, it is really important to keep both diabetes and your blood pressure under control. If you have health concerns about either condition, make sure you see your GP or diabetes specialist.

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Find out more about how high blood pressure and stroke are linked

The ideal blood pressure measurement for adults is 90/60 to 120/80. The first figure you read – in this case 90 or 120 - is your systolic blood pressure. This is the greatest level of pressure reached when your heart beats and sends your blood through your blood vessels and around your body.

The second figure - in this case either 60 or 80 – is your diastolic pressure. This is the lowest pressure, and this is measured when your heart is between beats.

Diastolic vs systolic: what do the numbers mean?

However blood pressure readings can vary enormously. Low blood pressure, for instance, measures from 70/40 to 90/60 while high blood pressure can range from 140/90 to 190/100. High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – can increase your risk of developing other serious health problems, including heart disease and stroke, both of which can be life-changing conditions.

To reduce your risk of having health problems it is important that you try to keep your blood pressure within the healthy range, particularly if you have existing health problems, such as diabetes.

What is high blood pressure for people with diabetes?

The level at which people with diabetes are regarded as having high blood pressure is 140/80 mm Hg, or higher. For people who have diabetes and complications from this condition, such as kidney problems, is 130/80.

If you have diabetes it is very important to take care of your health, eat the right foods, and stay active. If you would like to find out more, Diabetes UK has lots of useful information diet and exercise atwww.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/Managing-your-diabetes/

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

High blood pressure doesn’t usually produce symptoms, which is why it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. This is the only way that you can know for sure whether or not you have high blood pressure.

Your blood pressure can go up and down throughout the course of the day, and can be affected by different situations. You may have had a stressful journey to your GP surgery, you may be worrying about a family member or friend, may have money worries, or may be worried about your own health. These are just some of the factors that can affect your blood pressure.

What's raising your blood pressure? Discover some surprising causes

You may also have what’s known as white coat syndrome. This is when your blood pressure goes up when you are in your GP's surgery or in hospital, when you are seeing health professionals. The term comes from the white coats that doctors sometimes wear. If this happens it can be difficult for doctors to know whether they are getting the correct reading, or if it is high because you are anxious.

One way of dealing with this is to monitor your blood pressure at home, away from the potential stresses of a medical setting. Your GP's surgery may be able to lend you a blood pressure monitor to use at home, or you can buy them from pharmacies.

Your GP may also suggest that you try a 24-hour monitor. By wearing it for a day and a night, it can provide you with your blood pressure readings for a whole day. This can give your medical team a clearer picture. Your GP's surgery may have one that they can lend you.

How to monitor your blood pressure

Saga Health Insurance offers a range of health plans which provide cover if you develop high blood pressure (hypertension). If you've already been diagnosed they can often still cover your hypertension anyway, subject to some simple health questions and an additional premium. Find out more.

How is high blood pressure treated?

The treatment you need for high blood pressure tends to depend on just how high your blood pressure readings are.

If your blood pressure is slightly high – usually just above 140/90mmHG - but your general health is quite good, you may just be advised to make some changes to how you live. These may include losing weight, getting more exercise, and stopping smoking.

How to bring down blood pressure

At the next stage – if your blood pressure is usually above 149/90mmHg – and your daily life (including existing conditions, diet, smoking, weight and lack of exercise) puts you at risk of developing other health problems, your doctor will prescribe treatment to lower your blood pressure. Your doctor or nurse will also advise you on changing your habits to help bring down your blood pressure.

If your blood pressure is always high when measured – over 160/100mmHg – you’ll be offered medicine to bring your blood pressure down, and important advice on lifestyle changes.

High blood pressure puts you at risk of a range of serious health problems, including heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney disease. It’s important to take this condition seriously and to follow medical advice.

What lifestyle changes can prevent and treat high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is one condition where making changes to the way you live can make a difference that can improve your health.

10 lifestyle changes to help bring down your blood pressure

Eat less salt

Reducing the amount of salt can make a big difference to your blood pressure levels. According to Blood Pressure UK, consuming too much salt is at the top of the list when it comes to causes of blood pressure. The more salt you have in your diet, the higher your blood pressure readings will be.

Adults should consume a maximum of six g of salt each day, however in most cases our salt consumption is far higher than this – often as much as 8g a day CHECK. And we don’t always know when we’re eating salt, as it’s often in the foods we buy ready to eat. These include biscuits, bread, ready meals and takeaway food. This is salt we don’t know we’re eating, and yet it can make up about 75% of all the salt in our diet.

You should aim to reduce the amount of salt you eat to under 6g (0.2ounces) a day. This will mean checking the labels on the food you buy to see how much salt each item contains. You should also reduce – and ideally cut out – the amount of salt you use in your cooking.

10 signs you’re eating too much salt

Stop smoking

Smoking is bad for your health. It increases your risk of getting a range of serious health problems, including cancer, heart disease and stroke. Smoking causes other health problems too, including narrowing your blood vessels.

This is a health risk that is particularly important to know about if you have diabetes, because this condition can reduce both your circulation, and the levels of sensation you have, especially in your feet. This can cause serious problems if left untreated, including foot ulcers and infections.

Unfortunately, diabetes is one of the leading causes of amputation involving your lower limbs, so it is absolutely vital to take good care of yourself in every way you can. Stopping smoking is a good place to start.

Your guide to giving up smoking

Eat well

Having a healthy diet is important to everyone, but is especially important if you have an ongoing condition such as diabetes. Fruit and vegetables are important, but unfortunately many of us just don’t eat enough of them. You should have at least five (preferably more) portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

These can be fresh, canned, frozen or dried, but they do need to be five different types of fruit and vegetables. Eating five portions of peas won’t give you the range of vitamins, minerals and fibre that you need to stay healthy.

8 foods that may help regulate blood sugar

Cut back on sugar and fat

Drinks that contain high levels of sugar will raise blood glucose levels, so are best avoided. Any foods and drinks that contain sugar will also add to your calorie intake, so try to avoid them, except as a treat every now and then.

10 ways to cut back on sugar without even noticing it

Your fat intake is something else you need to watch. Use heart-healthy unsaturated fats (sunflower and olive oil) when you are cooking, to help keep the calories down. As a general rule, try to eat sugar, fat and salt as little as possible.

The field guide to food fats

Drink less alcohol

The official advice from the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines on alcohol, is that to stay safe, it’s best to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week regularly. This should help to keep your alcohol-related health risks to a minimum.

Learn more about alcohol units and strength

This works out at no more than six 175ml glasses of 13% wine a week, or six 568ml pints of 4% lager or ale a week. These are maximum amounts, so drinking less than this, and having some alcohol-free days each week, will be better for your health.

Does coffee sober you up? Alcohol myths busted

If you have diabetes you need to be extra careful about how much you drink. Drinking alcohol can result in either high (hyperglycaemia) or low blood levels (hypoglycaemia), so you need to be particularly careful about your intake, and if you haven’t eaten recently, you should not drink alcohol.

Are you drinking more than you think?

Lose weight

Being overweight is often linked to diabetes. In fact, over 90% of those who have recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes weigh more than the ideal weight for their height.

If you are overweight, losing weight is important, because it could actually stop you from becoming diabetic. For those who are already diabetic losing weight may help you keep your diabetes under control. Your diabetes consultant and their team should be able to help you plan a manageable weight loss programme.

Visit our weight loss section for inspiration and information

Be active

Exercise is important for anyone who has diabetes. Being active helps to reduce your blood sugar level, and so keeps you healthier. If you haven’t done any exercise for a while start gently, just walking a little further every day.

Ideally, the exercise you do should make you feel puffed, and out of breath. You can do this by climbing stairs, and walking fast enough to get your heart working harder. Even putting more effort into the work you do around your home and garden, can help. One of the best ways to start exercising is to join a group of people of a similar age, as you can support each other – and even make new friends.

Visit our exercise and fitness section to find an activity that suits you

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.