All adult Canadians should know what their blood pressure numbers are-just like they should know their numbers for weight, cholesterol and blood sugar, says Dr. Albert Yeung, professor of medicine and pharmacology, University of Alberta, Edmonton.
“Ask your doctor, write it down and keep it in your wallet.”
Dr. Yeung says that knowing your blood pressure numbers
“can be particularly important since most people with high blood pressure have no symptoms”. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, elevated blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the number one correctable risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease. What's more, hypertension is on the rise in Canadians 18-35 years of age, due in part to rising rates of obesity in children and teens.
Big health benefits are the pay-off for reducing high blood pressure. According to the Canadian Hypertension Society, lowering high blood pressure can reduce:
A healthy lifestyle is important for anyone with hypertension:
Blood pressure is expressed as two numbers like a fraction and is measured in units called millimeters of mercury or mmHg. The top number measuring systolic blood pressure occurs when the heart beats (contracts). The bottom number measuring diastolic blood pressure occurs when the heart relaxes. Both numbers are important. When a person has high blood pressure, the elevated blood pressure can be seen with the systolic pressure (systolic hypertension), with the diastolic pressure (diastolic hypertension), or both.
The most recent recommendations from the Canadian Hypertension Society state that for most people blood pressure should be 140/90 or lower. For people measuring their blood pressure at home the values should be 135/85 or lower. For people with diabetes or kidney disease, blood pressure should be 130/80 or lower.
While it's important to have your blood pressure checked at least once a year by a healthcare professional, a single blood pressure reading taken in the physician's office isn't usually enough to provide a true picture of your blood pressure. This is because blood pressure -a measure of the force exerted on the walls of blood vessels as the heart pumps out blood- can vary from minute to minute.
Blood pressure keeps changing depending on what you are doing. In the physician's office, for instance, your blood pressure reading may be higher than usual if you had difficulty finding parking or if you had to wait a long time to see the doctor. If blood pressure is high when recorded in the doctor's office, but repeatedly remains normal outside the doctor's office, this phenomenon is known as white coat hypertension or white coat effect.
Studies show that 15-30% of the general population may experience white coat hypertension. This elevation can occur even in those who are already taking medication for hypertension.
“There is increasing evidence that what really matters in terms of your future risk of stroke and heart attack is what happens to your blood pressure outside of the physician's office,” notes Dr. Yeung who is also the director of the Hypertension-Lipid Clinic at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.
“Any person who has hypertension ought to have a reliable home blood pressure monitor, but it needs to be used properly with guidance from a health professional.”
Tips from the Canadian Hypertension Society to help ensure accuracy:
Take your blood pressure twice a day (two readings each time) for one week to get an average blood pressure. Then, talk to your physician about the readings so you can get feedback on what to do next. As Dr. Yeung says,
“Knowing your blood pressure number empowers you to take better care of yourself.”
Prepared by Kristin Jenkins in collaboration with Alberta Health Services. This article appeared originally on the Canadian Health Network Web site.