Have you checked your blood pressure in the past year? Do you know your numbers?
High blood pressure – or hypertension – is an extremely common condition. When unrecognized or untreated it can cause catastrophic effects in your body.
To discover what you need to know about high blood pressure, let’s debunk 5 common myths about blood pressure.
Myth #1: It’s just a number.
Your blood pressure is one of the vital signs measured by health care providers. It is the pressure or force of blood against the inside of your blood vessels as it circulates to all the areas of your body.
The higher number on top is called the systolic pressure and it represents the pressure in blood vessels when the heart contracts. The lower number is the diastolic pressure corresponding to the heart relaxing and refilling with blood.
Pressures too high over time progressively damage blood vessels themselves and the vital tissues and organs they supply. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk for stroke, heart attacks, heart failure, dementia, kidney failure, vision loss and for men, erectile dysfunction.
Myth #2: I don’t need to worry about it.
High blood pressure is common. More than 1 in 5 adults has it, and your lifetime risk for developing hypertension is approximately 90%.
Blood pressure tends to increase with age. If your blood pressure is in the high normal range (130 to 140 over 80 to 90), you should be checked at least annually because you have a 40% risk of developing hypertension in the next two years.
Myth #3: If I feel good it can’t be high.
Most people with elevated blood pressure feel perfectly normal.
In fact, our brains are more sensitive to abnormally low blood pressure; we might feel lightheaded on standing, break out in a cold sweat, feel nauseous and faint when it’s too low.
High blood pressure often causes no symptoms until vital organs or tissues are significantly affected, such as with calf pain with walking or chest pain with activity due to narrowing of the arteries.
Myth #4: It’s only high at the doctor’s office.
With white coat syndrome, blood pressure is only high in a medical facility but normal most of the time. If you’re pressure is high in your doctor’s office, you should consider measuring your pressure with a reliable machine (See hypertension.ca for Hypertension Canada’s recommended models) not only in the quiet of your home but also at work where you spend most of your time.
When I discovered that some of my patients had higher blood pressures in their workplace than in my office, I coined the term, “white collar syndrome.”
Sometimes the presence of a spouse in the same room results in a higher reading; for others, a lower reading. You can probably guess which way it might go in your own home.
Myth #5: If I start taking medication for my blood pressure, I’m stuck on it for life.
Medications that lower blood pressure are not addictive and don’t cause dependence. But if you are already taking a drug to control blood pressure, if you stopped it or lowered the dose without medical guidance, your pressure would rise again.
The best way to manage blood pressure may be a combination of stress management, healthy lifestyle changes and medication if necessary. Each individual should work with a doctor who can find the best, most effective, custom fit.
There are proven lifestyle practices that can improve your blood pressure.
If you smoke, quit.
Limit alcohol to two or less drinks per day,14 drinks per week for men and 9 drinks per week for women. A standard drink is 1 can (341 ml) of 5% beer, 1 glass (150 ml) of 12% wine or 1.5 oz (45 ml) of 40% spirits.
Some individuals are sensitive to salt, and their blood pressure improves on a low sodium diet.
Maintain a healthy weight. For overweight individuals, a drop of 10 to 15 lbs can lower blood pressure.
Moderate dynamic physical activity (such as walking, jogging, cycling or swimming) 30 to 60 minutes 4 to 7 days a week can lower blood pressure.
The DASH diet was found to lower blood pressure. This is a diet high in fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy products, fibre, whole grains and fish, and low in saturated fats and transfats.
Dr. Herbert Benson demonstrated that the Relaxation Response common to meditation, prayer, yoga and mindful breathing can lower blood pressure.
To learn more about “What You Should Know About High Blood Pressure”, come to my next free public lecture on behalf of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients series.
I’ll be speaking on Friday, January 29th at 7 p.m. at the Confederation Community Centre at 4585 Albert Street in North Burnaby (near the Eileen Dailly Pool and McGill library). Register online with firstname.lastname@example.org or call Leona at (604) 259-4450.
Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in the Burnaby Now, Vancouver Courier, Richmond News and the Royal City Record.