So you’ve been told you have high blood pressure (HBP)? It is controllable, but a bit scary, because it is a risk factor for many diseases and is the number one risk factor for stroke. You now have to take medication and need to change your lifestyle – it is all a bit overwhelming! Here are a few tips that can help:
What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure (BP) is a measurement of the force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels (arteries). When your doctor measured it, you may have been told two numbers, such as “150 over 95”, usually written as 150/95, measured in millimetres of mercury (mm Kg). The top number (150), or the systolic measurement, is when your heart beats and pumps blood and the bottom number (95), or the diastolic measurement, is when your heart relaxes. Optimal blood pressure is 120/80 or less. It’s still considered normal up to 129/84. It becomes high blood pressure from 140/90 and up. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure is considered to be 130/80 and up.
Who develops it?
The risk of having high blood pressure increases with age and with poor lifestyle habits. Anyone with a family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease or stroke is at risk. The risk is also higher among people of South Asian, First Nations, Inuit, Metis or African descent.
Can it be cured?
You can’t cure high blood pressure, but you can control and manage it. Here are some tips:
- Always take your medication – Blood pressure has no symptoms and you cannot feel it. You may even be monitoring your BP and see it go down to normal. Well that’s great, but it’s likely to be your medication that is doing that – so don’t stop taking it! Sometimes medication can be reduced, if you successfully make some lifestyle changes – but always work with your Doctor to monitor your success and let them decide if your medication can be reduced.
- Home monitoring – Regularly monitor your BP at home and keep a log of the readings to share with your Doctor. Check your BP twice a day (morning and evening) before you take your medications. Use an automatic BP monitor recommended by the Canadian Hypertension Society such as the Life Brand Standard Automatic Blood Pressure Monitor. This is the most popular model but other types are available such as the Premium Model with an extra large illuminated display or the advanced BM60 model which also has a patented resting indicator (which show if you are sufficiently still to take an accurate reading). It’s very important to be “at rest” and have your arm positioned correctly when you take a measurement. If you don’t like arm cuffs then you may prefer the Life Brand wrist model. Always follow the monitor instructions very carefully.
- Lifestyle changes that can help:
- Weight reduction – losing even just 4.5kg (10lbs) can lower BP by 7.2/5.9 mm Kg
- Get active! – Even something like brisk walking, for 30-60 minutes a day, most days of the week, can lower BP by 4.9/3.7 mm Kg
- Cut back on salt (sodium) – We all eat too much salt. You should have no more than 1500mg of sodium a day. Since over 77% of the sodium we eat is in processed or packaged foods, this means you need to do more than just replacing the salt on your table with a salt substitute and avoiding salty snacks. Read food labels and choose low sodium products (less than 200mg per serving). Lowering your salt intake by 1860mg/day can reduce your BP by 5.1/2.7 mm Kg
- Limit your alcohol intake – Cut back to 1-2 drinks a day to a maximum of 14/week for men and 9/week for women and your BP can be reduced by 3.9/2.4 mm Kg
- Eat healthy – follow the DASH diet and you can reduce your BP by 11.4/5.5 mm Kg. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
You can get this diet, which is high in fresh vegetables and fruit, healthy fats and lean meats, from your doctor, or you can find it online. Ask your family and friends to support you as you make these lifestyle changes. And, if you have any questions about your medications or which BP monitors to use your pharmacist is there to help – just ask!