On Thursday, December 8th at 7 pm, I’m presenting “What You Need to Know About High Blood Pressure” at the McGill Library 4595 Albert Street in North Burnaby. This free presentation is sponsored by the Burnaby Division of Family Practice and the Burnaby Public Library. Because seating is limited, please register by phone at 604-299-8955, in person or online at http://www.bpl.bc.ca/events/mcgill
Do you know your numbers?
You know by heart your birthdate and age, home and cell numbers, your address and maybe even your social insurance number.
But there’s one number that every adult should know: your blood pressure.
To understand why this measurement is so important, let’s explore five myths about blood pressure.
Myth #1: “It’s just a number.”
It’s more than a number. It’s one of your vital signs (e.g. heart rate and temperature, not your astrological sign).
Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure of blood inside your blood vessels, specifically, the brachial artery of the upper arm. A normal blood pressure of 120/80 (“120 over 80”) represents a systolic pressure of 120 mm Hg (when the heart contracts) and a diastolic pressure of 80 (when the heart relaxes).
Of course, we need a normal amount of pressure to deliver blood to all your vital organs, but chronically high blood pressure (hypertension) damages those organs and arteries themselves.
Myth #2: “I don’t need to worry about it.”
High blood pressure damages the walls of arteries throughout the body, including the kidneys, brain, heart, eyes and extremities. Over time, it contributes to atherosclerosis (narrowing of arteries), manifested as progressive kidney failure, loss of circulation to your feet and legs, dementia, loss of vision, erectile dysfunction, heart failure (weakness in the pumping of the heart) and angina (chest pain due to impaired circulation to the heart muscle).
The catastrophic end results are premature heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure requiring dialysis, amputations of toes and feet, aneurysms (the expansion and rupture of blood vessels in the chest, abdomen or brain) and end stage heart failure.
Myth #3: “If I feel good, it can’t be bad.”
A lot of us might assume that if we feel good, we must be healthy and our blood pressure couldn’t be a problem. There’s a common misconception that individuals with high blood pressure are stressed out or angry like Donald Duck. Mickey Mouse is just as likely to be hypertensive.
High blood pressure may be caused by medical conditions such as kidney disease or an overactive thyroid, by medications including ibuprofen or an unhealthy lifestyle; however, 95% of people with high blood pressure have essential hypertension that is often genetic. Blood pressure also increases with age.
In fact, one in five adults has high blood pressure, and your lifetime risk for developing hypertension is 90%. Your risk may be even higher if you have a family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney failure or strokes.
Myth #4: “It’s only high at the doctor’s office.”
White coat syndrome is a genuine condition wherein the patient’s blood pressure is much higher when taken by a doctor or nurse than at home. I ask my patients to measure and record their home blood pressures with a reliable machine (that we compare to our office equipment).
If blood pressure is only elevated at the clinic but never at home or work, we don’t prescribe medications. However, some people have a significant rise in their blood pressure with any stressful situation, including their work. If the blood pressure is high at least 8 hours/day (i.e. at work) in addition to the medical clinic, it should be treated.
Myth #5: “If I start a medication, I’m stuck on it for life.”
As a physician, I want my patients to maintain safe blood pressure levels and avoid the long-term complications. Medications have a potent effect in lowering blood pressure but they are not addictive and don’t make the body dependent any more than before they are started.
I have many patients who have been able to reduce the doses and numbers of medications they take through major lifestyle changes. Some now have normal blood pressures without any drugs.
These potent lifestyle changes include quitting smoking, limiting or stopping alcohol, increased physical activity, weight loss (if overweight), eating more fruits and vegetables and less red meat, and limiting sodium (salt) in the diet.
So get to know your numbers – especially your blood pressure. Most adults should check their blood pressure at least once a year and more frequently if they have a personal or family history of high blood pressure.
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. To learn more about upcoming health education events, see the BDFP website at divisionsbc.ca/burnaby. For more on achieving your positive potential in health: davidicuswong.wordpress.com.