Your Health

Hypertension

What is Hypertension?
(high blood pressure)

Hypertension is commonly known as high blood pressure. Blood pressure is the pressure of your blood against the inner walls of your arteries. Think of it as being similar to the water pressure in a pipe or hose. According to Health Canada, hypertension is a disease affecting 20 to 25% of Canadians. As many as half the people over age 55 who suffer from hypertension are not even diagnosed or treated.

If the pressure in your arteries is too high, over time it can cause disease. Left untreated, high blood pressure can result in:

  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • kidney failure
  • eye problems
  • other diseases

What are the symptoms?

One of the major problems in detecting or treating hypertension is that, in most cases, there are no symptoms. Rarely, a person may have severe high blood pressure, which may cause the following:

  • headaches
  • breathing difficulty
  • vision problems
  • temporary weakness
  • temporary paralysis resulting from small strokes

If you notice any of these symptoms, get medical help immediately.

What are the risk factors?

You are more at risk of developing hypertension if you:

  • are more than 65 years old
  • have a parent or sibling with hypertension
  • are a man
  • have severe hardening of the arteries
  • are of African descent
  • are pregnant
  • have a certain chronic medical condition or long-term illness such as kidney disease.

Your blood pressure can also increase if you:

  • do not exercise
  • have more than two drinks of alcohol daily
  • experience chronic stress

Certain drugs and other products may affect your blood pressure. Check with your Peoples pharmacist about prescription and over-the-counter medications (even natural products) that may increase your blood pressure.

How is it diagnosed?

A health-care professional can measure your blood pressure quickly and easily using an inflatable cuff wrapped around your arm. A normal blood pressure is about 120/80 (read as “120 over 80”). It is too high if it is over 140/90.

Understanding blood pressure readings

120/80 reading is called... refers to…
The first number (120) systolic the pressure in your arteries when your heart pumps
The second number (80) diastolic the pressure in your arteries between heartbeats

Get your blood pressure checked at least once every two years, even if you rarely see a doctor and think you are healthy. To ensure adequate measurement of your pressure, rest for at least 5 minutes before your blood pressure is taken and avoid drinking coffee (or liquid containing caffeine) and smoking for at least half an hour before. It’s also important not to wear clothing that is tight on your arms.

How can I prevent hypertension?

Use the following strategies to help prevent hypertension:

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Eat low-fat foods, including at least 5–10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
  • Limit your alcohol intake to two drinks a day or less.
  • Eat potassium-rich foods such as nuts, vegetables and fruit.
  • Eat calcium-rich foods such as low-fat dairy products, broccoli, kale, figs, canned salmon with bones, and tofu with calcium.
  • Eat magnesium-rich foods such as dark green vegetables, nuts, whole grains, soybeans, legumes, and seafood.
  • Do not add salt to meals at the table per day. Salt raises blood pressure in 10–15% of people.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Exercise at a moderate intensity (for example, jog, bike, swim, or walk briskly) 30–60 minutes most days of the week. Before starting regular exercise, fill out an exercise safety questionnaire (PAR-Q), available from most fitness centres or your local Peoples Pharmacy.
  • Get enough rest and sleep. Lack of sleep can raise blood pressure in people who already have hypertension.

How can I treat hypertension?

Hypertension is usually first treated using lifestyle modifications. Medications can be used afterwards if desired pressure numbers are not attained. Despite all the treatments available, more than five out of six people do not manage their high blood pressure adequately, mostly because they either do not know they have hypertension, do not make the necessary lifestyle modifications, or do not take proper medications.

Lifestyle modifications

Good nutrition must be part of the first steps to treating hypertension. Alone, for some people, it can serve as a “blood lowering medication”. You can in fact lower your blood pressure by eating a daily diet that includes:

  • low-fat foods
  • 2–3 servings of low-fat dairy products
  • 8–10 servings of fruits and vegetables

Examples Of Single Servings

Fruits and vegetables

  • One medium-size piece (for example, an apple, banana, carrot, or potato)
  • 125 ml (1⁄2 cup) fresh vegetables
  • 250 ml (1 cup) salad
  • 125 ml (1⁄2 cup) juice

Low-fat dairy products

  • 250 ml (1 cup) milk
  • 175 ml (2⁄3 cup) yogurt
  • 50 g (2 oz.) cheese

As well as improving your diet, be sure to follow the suggestions listed under “How Can I Prevent Hypertension?” The following suggestions are particularly effective approaches for treating or preventing hypertension:

  • Lose weight. This is the best thing you can do to lower your blood pressure; in fact, it may be the only thing you need to do to normalize it. Losing as few as 10 lbs. may reduce your blood pressure.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Reduce your cholesterol.

Lifestyle modifications will not only help your hypertension; they will reduce your risk for other diseases as well, such as heart attacks and some cancers.

Medications

If you cannot lower your high blood pressure by modifying your lifestyle, medications can help reduce blood pressure and then prevent hypertension complications. Many different blood-pressure medications are available. You might have to take more than one medication to reach your treatment goals, ask your Peoples pharmacist tol give you all the information you need to help you reach the ideal blood pressure levels.
It’s important to remember that you will need to make a lifelong commitment to treat your hypertension. You may be tempted to stop your medication because you are experiencing side effects from the drug and likely are not noticing any hypertension symptoms. It’s best to talk to your Peoples pharmacist or doctor first if you intend to stop your medications.

Where can I find out more about hypertension?

For more information about your medications or other health issues:

  • talk to your Peoples pharmacist
  • read People First, a health magazine of practical information available free from your local Peoples Drug Mart or Peoples Pharmacy

Other resources

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Regional offices are listed in the phone book

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