What everyone should know about high blood pressure

You might have this serious condition and not know it
A healthcare professional checks a patient’s blood pressure

High blood pressure – also called hypertension – is a common condition that can cause serious health problems. It is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease. Yet you might not even be aware that your blood pressure falls into the high-risk category. 

Hypertension is silent; most people with this condition feel fine. The risk increases with age. So it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.

Almost 8 million people in Canada have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Even more live with it undetected.

“We don't systematically screen for hypertension in Canada, unlike some types of cancers or other diseases,” says Dr. Janusz Kaczorowski. He holds the Chair in Hypertension Prevention and Control at the University of Montreal, which is supported in part by Heart & Stroke donors. With in-person medical appointments reduced through the pandemic, he worries that many people missed the opportunity to have their blood pressure checked.

Almost 8 million people in Canada have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. 

Even more live with it undetected.

The good news is that adopting healthier habits can significantly decrease your risk. “This should be the first line with respect to hypertension,” says Dr. Kaczorowski. “It actually has measurable impact on reducing blood pressure.”

Here are steps you can take to lower your risk:

  • Know your numbers; check your blood pressure regularly.
  • Reduce the amount of salt you eat. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, whole grains and protein foods, while limiting highly processed foods and avoiding sugary drinks.
  • Be physically active for at least 150 minutes a week.
  • Be smoke-free.
  • If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to small amounts, pace yourself and drink plenty of water in between.
  • Engage in healthy ways to manage your stress; try to find relief through physical activity, socializing, laughter and healthy eating.

For anyone who has been diagnosed with hypertension, the challenge is to keep the condition under control.

  • If you have been prescribed medication for hypertension, it’s important to take it regularly. 
  • If you are asked to measure your blood pressure at home, purchase a monitor that has been validated by Hypertension Canada. “One study found 75% of commercially sold BP machines are not validated,” says Dr. Ross Tsuyuki, pharmacist and president of Hypertension Canada, who is also a Heart & Stroke researcher.
  • Log the readings from your BP monitor. If the numbers are higher than the target range set for you, discuss them with your physician, nurse or pharmacist.
  • Don’t forget about the benefits of healthy living!

Here are some resources to help you manage hypertension.

  • Learn more about high blood pressure.
  • Choose a home blood pressure monitor that has been clinically validated to be accurate by Hypertension Canada. They have tips to help you find the device that is right for you.
  • Track your blood pressure at home. Get tips from Hypertension Canada and watch this video from Heart & Stroke.
  • Try the PC Health App. It includes programs from Heart & Stroke to help you monitor and manage your blood pressure.
  • Learn about the DASH diet; it has been scientifically shown to lower blood pressure.