Hypertension | Dr. Ali GhaharyNearly one in five Canadians (that’s approximately 4.6 million people) between the ages of 20 and 79 have hypertension – the medical term that is commonly used to describe high blood pressure. Blood pressure is when the force of your blood gets pumped from the heart and against the blood vessels, making it possible for the delivery of things like nutrients and oxygen to different organs and tissues in the body. However, when you develop hypertension, this means that there is too much pressure in your blood vessels – thus the term “high blood pressure” – and when you have high blood pressure, this can cause damage to those blood vessels as well as pose other serious risks to your health if left untreated.

When it comes to the risk factors of high blood pressure, there are many. However, some of those risk factors are things that you can control, while other risk factors may be beyond your ability to control. For example, one of the most common reasons why someone might develop high blood pressure is often due to their lifestyle. This can include everything from having an unhealthy diet to excess consumption of alcohol, living a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight or obese, to bad habits such as smoking. You can also develop high blood pressure as a result of stress and other health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, and sleep apnea. That being said, these are all things that you can manage and control, which can help keep your blood pressure at healthy levels. As mentioned, there are also certain risk factors associated with high blood pressure that cannot be controlled, such as age and genetics. You’re more likely to develop high blood pressure as you age, or if there is a history of high blood pressure in your family.

When it comes to keeping your blood pressure under control, changing your lifestyle can be hard, but with the right mindset it is something that you can easily achieve. As mentioned, having a healthy diet is an important aspect in reducing your risk of high blood pressure. Once of the most common dietary approaches that health professionals recommend is the DASH diet – which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet focuses on eating more fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, whole-grains and nuts, while limiting your intake of things like sugar and red meat, as well as foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and cholesterol. Exercise is also important, as being at a healthy weight not only reduces your risk of developing high blood pressure, but is beneficial to your health in a number of other ways, such as decreasing your risk of heart disease, and it can even boost your mood and relieve things like stress and anxiety. Things like cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption can be difficult habits to break, and you may need extra help with those which is okay. There are plenty of cessation tips available online as well as different things, like patches, that you can try, while groups like AA and other counselling/therapy and rehabilitation programs can also help if you are dependent on alcohol. Along with making healthy lifestyle habits, medications can also be prescribed to help control blood pressure. Some of the medications that are most commonly prescribed include diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, ARBs, CCBs, and direct renin inhibitors.

If high blood pressure remains untreated and out of control, your health will be at risk, which is why getting your blood pressure under control is so important. Having high blood pressure can increase your chances of suffering a stroke or heart attack, puts you at increased risk of heart failure, kidney disease, retinopathy (eye problems), and dementia.

If you are someone who has recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it’s important to be as educated as possible on what your blood pressure numbers should be and how to properly monitor your blood pressure. Having a blood pressure level of 120/80 mmHg means you are at low-risk of developing hypertension, while blood pressure readings between 139/89 mmHg and 140/90 mmHg put you at a moderate to elevated risk of hypertension. You can help to keep track of your blood pressure by having an at-home blood pressure reading device, which can be a good tool in helping keep your physician informed on how well your blood pressure is being controlled and knowing how well you are or aren’t progressing. When using an at-home device, it’s important that you don’t smoke or drink caffeine at least 30 minutes before taking your blood pressure. You should also sit and rest quietly for at least 5 minutes prior to taking your blood pressure, and make sure your feet are flat on the floor and arm at heart-level.