Nearly one in five Canadians between the ages of 20 and 79 have hypertension – another name that is used for high blood pressure. It is normal for our blood pressure to rise and fall throughout the day with changes to things like activity level as well as emotional state. However, if your blood pressure level remains high for a long period of time, this can eventually cause significant damage to your heart as well as result in other health problems down the line.
There are many risk factors that can be contributors to high blood pressure, such as:
• Weight: If you are overweight or obese, then you need more blood flow in order to supply oxygens and nutrients to your tissues. The harder your body has to work in order to do this, the higher your blood pressure level will be.
• Physical activity: Along with being a contributor to obesity, lack of physical activity also means that there will be less blood flow through your arteries.
• Sodium: When you consume too much sodium (commonly known as salt), this causes your body to retain fluid as well as causes your arteries to constrict, leading to a rise in blood pressure.
• Alcohol consumption: When you consume any kind of alcoholic beverages, this causes your ANS (Adrenergic Nervous System) to activate. When this occurs, your blood vessels constrict and your blood flow and heart rate increase.
• Medications: Certain medications are known to cause an increase in blood pressure. This includes NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) such as Ibuprofen, in addition to cough and cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine (these ingredients are most commonly found in decongestants.)
• Stress level: Believe it or not, your mental state can also play a role in your blood pressure level. For example, if you are experiencing high levels of stress, this can also cause a dramatic increase in blood pressure.
In order to determine your blood pressure level, it is important that you check it consistently. If you happen to have a high blood pressure reading on one particular day, then you should check it for at least two more days. If your blood pressure remains high over the course of those three days, you should consult with a physician.
In many cases, getting your blood pressure back down to a healthy level is often about making certain lifestyle and habit changes. For example, if you are overweight or obese, then you should increase your exercise level. Go for walks around your neighbourhood, jogs around the track, join a gym, go swimming – any type of physical activity is considered good for you, as long as you are getting at least 30 minutes of it each and every day. If you have a diet that is high in sodium, reduce your salt intake. You should also be making other healthier choices with your diet, such as avoiding foods that are high in fat, fried foods, etc., as this will be better for your overall health in the long-run. (These types of foods are also often high in sodium, too.) One great example of a diet to follow is the DASH diet. If you’re someone who drinks alcohol, you should strongly consider reducing how much you drink (limiting yourself to no more than 2 drinks per day) or avoid alcohol all together. (If you have trouble with alcohol consumption, you should speak with your physician about treatment programs in your area.) Lastly, if you experience stress, you should try to identify your triggers and find healthy ways around them. In many cases, speaking to a licensed professional such as a counsellor can be of great help.
While your doctor can always check your blood pressure in-office, it can also be a good idea to have a blood pressure monitor at home. These monitors can be purchased from any pharmacy or medical supplies store – or even online – and are usually quite affordable. Having your own monitor can be a good idea as you may not always be able to see your physician – especially in light of COVID-19. While medical clinics do remain open and are still seeing patients whenever necessary, many have also transitioned to telehealth appointments.
If you are going to be monitoring your own blood pressure at home, you should make note of the following:
• Avoid tobacco and caffeine for at least 30 minutes prior to the reading.
• Do not check your blood pressure when upset, stressed, or experiencing pain.
• Sit quietly, upright, with your feet flat on floor and back against the chair/firm surface.
• Place your arm on a table/firm surface with the cuff at the same level as your heart.
• Ensure cuff is snug around the upper arm, allowing for 2 fingers to fit between it/your arm.
• Do not talk during the reading.