The heart pumps blood throughout the body with a certain amount of force. Once pushed out by the heart, the blood causes pressure on the walls of the blood vessels, which is called blood pressure.
When blood pressure in the arteries is higher than normal, this is known as high blood pressure or hypertension.
Hypertension generally doesn’t cause symptoms. However, some people may experience headaches or dizziness when their pressure is too high. Although a silent disease, hypertension needs to be treated because it is a major risk factor for many health problems. It is also the leading risk factor for premature death due to heart disease. Over the long term, high blood pressure damages the heart, arteries and kidneys. This in turn can lead to stroke, heart attack from heart disease, heart failure, or kidney failure. Hypertension has also been associated with dementia. Hypertension must be detected and controlled as early as possible.
Since hypertension is a silent disease, the only way to detect it is by regularly checking your blood pressure. How often you check your blood pressure will depend on your age and your health. Ask your pharmacist or doctor about how often you should check your pressure.
Blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure monitor or “sphygmomanometer.” Different types of blood pressure monitors sold at your pharmacy will let you easily take your pressure.
Electronic devices are easier to use, easier to handle, and have larger display numbers. However, they are often more expensive. Some devices have a memory and can record your values. When you choose a device, look for the “Recommended by Hypertension Canada ” label or for the red and white heart with a black check mark. These devices meet the standards of Hypertension Canada and are reliable.
It’s important to understand how to use the device, and you need to use it properly. Your pharmacist is there to guide you. Get your pharmacist or doctor to regularly check your blood pressure, even if you check it at home. This way, you can tell if your blood pressure device is properly calibrated and is taking accurate readings.
Blood pressure is measured with two numbers:
For example, for a blood pressure reading of 120/80 mm Hg , 120 represents systolic pressure and 80 represents diastolic pressure.
Blood pressure varies throughout the day. It peaks in the morning, decreases as the day goes on, and reaches its lowest point at night. Blood pressure can also vary for other reasons, such as emotions, stress, exercise, exertion, excitement, smoking, some medications, and certain psychological factors. Blood pressure can also vary individually according to age, race, sex, diet and lifestyle.
Getting a borderline or high blood pressure reading does not automatically mean you have hypertension. For hypertension to be diagnosed, your results must be high on at least two separate occasions, unless your pressure is excessively high at the first reading. Blood pressure values are generally confirmed with two readings each time. The results must also be confirmed by a doctor.
Your doctor may also suggest that you get your pressure tested with ABPM, for ambulatory blood pressure monitoring . You must wear the ABPM device for 24 hours, as it will periodically measure your pressure during the day and night. You can generally rent these devices from a pharmacy with a doctor’s prescription.
The table below gives blood pressure values and explains what they mean. The optimal values are for people without any illnesses or diseases. These values will be different if you have hypertension or if you have another health problem in addition to hypertension. Ask your pharmacist or doctor about the target blood pressure values for your situation.
|Blood pressure values|
|Systolic||120 or less||120 to 129||130 to 139||140 or more|
|Diastolic||80 or less||80 to 84||85 to 89||90 or more|
Up to 30% of people get high blood pressure readings due to “white coat syndrome.” This is when someone seems to suffer from hypertension when in fact they don’t, as their pressure is only high in the doctor’s office. If you think you may get white coat syndrome, have your pressure taken at the pharmacy and note it in a blood pressure log. You can show the log to your doctor at your next appointment to compare his or her readings with the readings taken by your pharmacist.
About 10% of people have “masked hypertension,” which is the opposite of white coat syndrome. Masked hypertension is when blood pressure is within target values at the doctor’s office but high at the pharmacy or at home. This is why it’s important to check your blood pressure regularly. If this happens to you, note your readings in a blood pressure log. You can show the readings to your doctor at your next appointment.
Other factors can also influence blood pressure readings. Here are some precautions to avoid false positive results:
There is no cure for hypertension. However, hypertension must be controlled to prevent its negative health impact. For some people, a change in lifestyle is enough to control the condition. Other people will need a combination of medication and a healthy lifestyle to keep their pressure under control. Here are a few habits you can adopt right now to prevent hypertension:
Whenever possible, doctors strongly encourage people with hypertension to change their lifestyles instead of taking medication. However, if new habits don’t successfully lower your blood pressure, or if your pressure is too high, your doctor may prescribe medication. There are five major groups of hypertension medications, and each has its benefits and drawbacks. The choice of hypertension medication will depend on the type and cause of your hypertension and your health profile.
Remember that none of these products can truly cure hypertension. The medication prescribed by your doctor will lower your blood pressure and keep it at an acceptable level. You must take this medication as prescribed for it to be effective. This means taking it regularly and every day, as indicated. If you stop your medication, your blood pressure values will go back up.