What's the big deal about high blood pressure?

By Dr. Nadia Khan

Why does the Heart and Stroke Foundation care about your blood pressure? It’s simple. Your blood pressure is a marker of your overall heart/cardiovascular health. High blood pressure is not good for you and is one of the most important risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Blood pressure that is almost always in the high range is called hypertension. If you have hypertension, you are much more vulnerable to stroke, heart disease and early death. People who are overweight or obese or who have diabetes are also more likely to have high blood pressure, which only makes things worse.  The good news is that high blood pressure can be prevented and even if you have high blood pressure, it can be controlled to lower your risk of having heart disease and stroke.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure inside your blood vessels as the heart pumps blood.  The systolic blood pressure (top number) is the pressure from the force of the blood when it is being pumped through the blood vessels. The diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) is the pressure on your blood vessels in between heart beats (when the heart is relaxed).

What is healthy blood pressure?

Although a healthy blood pressure measurement is 120/80, we need our blood pressures to be less than 140/90mmHg (and less than 130/80 if you are diabetic). Pressures over 140/90 mmHg are considered to be high, we call that having hypertension.

How do I know if I have high blood pressure, or hypertension?

Most people with high blood pressure cannot feel it.  Therefore, the only way we can detect hypertension is by measuring blood pressure.  Your family doctor, nurse, pharmacist and even you can measure your blood pressure. Anyone with high blood pressure readings will need to see a doctor to make a diagnosis of hypertension.  Blood pressure should be measured regularly.

What should I do if I have high blood pressure?

Your doctor will assess your situation and make some suggestions. Your blood pressure can be affected by many things. High blood pressure can be caused by an unhealthy diet, too little physical activity (ie., too much couch or screen time), and too much stress. Your doctor may prescribe medication to treat the condition but you can also improve your blood pressure by eating better, cutting down on salt, getting more physical activity, and reducing stress levels.

Dr. Khan is an Assistant Professor at UBC and a doctor of General Internal Medicine at St. Paul's Hospital. She is a leading Canadian researcher into South Asian cardiovascular health.

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