May is Hypertension Month, an important opportunity for many Canadians to think about their own cardiovascular health. Hypertension, known commonly as high blood pressure, is a very common medical issue that Canadians face, affecting nearly a quarter of adults.(1)
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension is when someone’s blood pressure is consistently above normal levels. Blood pressure is measured as Systolic pressure (the highest pressure, when the heart contracts) and Diastolic pressure (the lowest pressure, when the heart is at rest). While normal blood pressures are about 120/80 mmHg, hypertension is when the pressure is consistently at 140/90 mmHg or higher.
What Does High Blood Pressure Do?
When blood pressures are higher than normal for a long period of time, it can stress and injure the entire cardiovascular system. High blood pressure damages the veins and arteries and places stress on the heart, brain, and kidneys that can lead to other medical concerns and health issues. Hypertension can cause heart attacks and heart failure, stroke, coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, vision loss, kidney disease and failure, sexual dysfunction, and dementia.(2)
Despite being a common health problem with few symptoms, the life-changing or sometimes life-threatening consequences of hypertension are enough to make this condition very serious.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
There are many different factors that lead to hypertension. Often, someone that is diagnosed with high blood pressure doesn’t have one single cause for the condition.
An overwhelming majority of hypertension diagnoses are related to “Primary” or non-specific factors. These usually include lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, smoking, or drinking habits, as well as genetics and age. Other “Secondary” factors lead to a much smaller number of hypertension diagnoses. These secondary factors include medical issues that could directly cause high blood pressure, such as pre-existing conditions or diseases, pregnancy, or side effects from medications.
Do I Have High Blood Pressure?
Hypertension itself is very hard to detect without the help of a medical professional. It typically happens very gradually and rarely has any direct symptoms.
Regularly measuring your pressure can help catch hypertension early, allowing for more effective treatment and helping to minimize damage. You can measure your own blood pressure at home if you purchase equipment, but can also check your pressure at your pharmacy or with your doctor. Monitoring your blood pressure and cardiovascular health is important for everyone, but becomes a much more important part of routine health care for people as they age, or if they have any pre-existing risk factors that may make them vulnerable to hypertension.
How Do I Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure?
The risks of high blood pressure connected to age or pre-existing conditions and genetics are unavoidable. However, many other risk factors like diet, exercise, smoking and drinking habits, and overall health are important in maintaining good cardiovascular health. Even if you haven’t paid attention to these in the past, it’s never too late to start improving your health! Focusing on healthy habits (and reducing or eliminating unhealthy ones) is a very important step in managing hypertension, as well as a number of other health concerns.
In addition to these lifestyle factors, people diagnosed with hypertension might be prescribed various medications by their doctor to help them keep their blood pressure under control.
Hypertension is a very common medical issue, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a serious health concern. It is important for all Canadians to keep their cardiovascular health in mind and to work with their doctor to monitor and control their blood pressure to lead healthy lives. There are a number of ways that hypertension can be managed, making it easy for anyone to take control of their own cardiovascular health.
- “Blood pressure of adults, 2012 to 2015 – Statistics Canada.” 13 Oct. 2016, https://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2016001/article/14657-eng.htm.
- “Health Threats From High Blood Pressure – American Heart Association.” 11 Jan. 2018, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/LearnHowHBPHarmsYourHealth/Health-Threats-From-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002051_Article.jsp.