Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure. It occurs when there is too much pressure in the blood vessels.
While most people with hypertension have no symptoms, it can sometimes cause headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds. These symptoms, however, are not specific to hypertension and usually do not occur until blood pressure is very high.
Hypertension puts undue strain on the heart and damages the internal organs over time, which can lead to serious health problems (e.g., heart failure, myocardial infarction, kidney failure, stroke). This is why screening and treatment are so very important when it comes to preventing long-term complications.
In most cases, there is no identifiable cause. Hypertension can affect anyone (including children), but certain factors increase the risk of developing hypertension, including:
- Advanced age
- Race (people of African heritage are more at risk)
- Family history of hypertension
- Being obese or overweight
- Certain chronic conditions (e.g., kidney disease, diabetes, sleep apnea)
- Too much salt in your diet
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Lack of physical activity
Lifestyle changes are vital to the treatment of hypertension. There are several measures that can be taken to better manage hypertension, including:
- Limiting your salt intake to about 2000 mg per day
- Follow the Canada's Food Guide recommendations
- Limiting your alcohol consumption
- Aiming for a healthy body weight
- Exercising (e.g., walking, gardening, dancing) regularly
- Quitting smoking
Most individuals who have hypertension must also take medication to reduce their blood pressure. Although hypertension usually does not cause symptoms, do not forget to take your medication regularly.
If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, your health professional may ask you to measure your blood pressure at home to help monitor your treatment. In order to do this, you must take measurements regularly with a blood pressure monitor, which can be purchased from most pharmacies and medical supply stores.
A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers: the top number represents the pressure when the heart is contracting, and the bottom number is the amount of pressure when the heart rests between beats. Usually, a target below 140/90 mmHg (or 130/80 mmHg if you are diabetic) is recommended.
When should I see a medical professional?
- See your health care professional if your blood pressure is higher than normal, even if you have no symptoms.
- However, if you also have signs of stroke or heart attack, go to your nearest hospital emergency room or call 911. These signs include, among other things:
- Drooping on one side of the face
- Inability to lift both arms normally
- Trouble speaking normally
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath