One in every five Canadians suffers from hypertension, in other words, the pressure in their arteries is too high. The risk of high blood pressure increases with age: While only 10% of Canadians under the age of 45 have high blood pressure, that number climbs to 70% for those age 80 and over. Since hypertension increases the risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack, it is important to get your pressure checked regularly.
How does high blood pressure develop?
There are two types of high blood pressure:
- Primary, or essential, hypertension is the most common. For reasons that are still not entirely clear, blood vessels lose their elasticity as you age. This means your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your vessels, which increases blood pressure.
- Secondary hypertension refers to hypertension that is caused by another health problem, such as kidney disease. In this case, by treating the problem that is causing blood pressure to rise, it is often possible to bring the pressure back down to a normal level.
Who is at risk of high blood pressure?
Aside from age, there are a number of other factors that can increase the risk of developing hypertension.
Risk factors beyond your control:
- Family history of high blood pressure
Risk factors you can control:
- Unhealthy diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Sleep apnea
- Kidney disease
How do I know if my blood pressure is too high?
Blood pressure is not static; it varies throughout the day, based on your level of activity. It is lower when you are resting and higher when you exercise or experience significant stress. This is normal.
Since hypertension does not usually cause any symptoms, only your doctor can diagnose it. It requires several high blood pressure readings before being able to determine whether you have high blood pressure. As a result, your doctor may ask you to take your blood pressure at home for a certain period or may prescribe ABPM (ambulatory blood pressure monitoring), which requires you to wear a device that measures your blood pressure for 24 hours. Your pharmacist can show you how to take your blood pressure at home or provide you with a blood pressure device for ABPM.
For most people, blood pressure is considered high and requires treatment when their readings exceed 140/90 mm Hg. Since diabetes also increases the risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event, diabetics must receive antihypertensive treatment if their blood pressure rises above 130/80 mm Hg.
A healthy lifestyle can make a difference
Healthy habits that can help reduce your risk of high blood pressure include eating a balanced, low-salt diet; being physically active; maintaining a healthy weight; not smoking; and, if you drink alcohol, drinking in moderation.
If you have any questions about hypertension and how it is treated, ask your pharmacist.