Hypertension – or high blood pressure – is the #1 risk factor for stroke. It affects 1 in 5 Canadians and nearly half of those who have it aren’t aware they do – giving rise to its nickname “the silent killer”. Research has shown that people of South Asian descent are even more likely to develop hypertension than the general population.

Understanding hypertension

Your blood pressure is the amount of force required to keep blood moving continuously through your body. When the complex system that regulates your blood pressure – your heart, your arteries and your kidneys – doesn’t work as it’s supposed to, too much pressure may build in your arteries. This is hypertension. Hypertension doesn’t mean you are a tense person. You may be quite relaxed but still suffer from high blood pressure.

Know your numbers

It helps to understand what your blood pressure reading is telling you. The first number is your systolic blood pressure and you want that to be around 120. That’s the maximum pressure of the blood against the arteries when the heart squeezes. The second number is the diastolic blood pressure and you want that to be about 80. That’s the minimum pressure of the blood against the arteries when the heart relaxes.

How does hypertension affect you?

Left untreated, hypertension can cause your heart to have to work too hard, and your arteries to harden, which can lead to disability or death due to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure and dementia.

What causes hypertension?

There are many contributing factors to hypertension and the more you have, the greater your chances of developing it. These include stress, lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol. See Prevention here.

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