Blood pressure is a measure of the force that the heart uses to pump blood around the body. It reaches its highest point when the heart is contracting and its lowest point when the heart is relaxing between beats. As a result, there are two values when measuring blood pressure. The first (or top) number represents systolic blood pressure and the second (or bottom) number represents diastolic blood pressure. Blood pressure fluctuates quite a bit throughout the day due to changing emotional states, stress, physical activity, etc. It also varies from one individual to another according to age, race, gender, diet, and lifestyle.
Individuals with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease than those with normal blood pressure. Generally speaking, hypertension is present when systolic pressure is greater than 140 mmHg or diastolic pressure is greater than 90 mmHg. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the damage.
Hypertension can develop at any age, but is more common in adults. Although it can occasionally cause headaches, hypertension usually goes unnoticed until a complication occurs. When left untreated, it damages the heart, arteries, kidneys and eyes. It can therefore lead to angina, heart failure, heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and blindness.
Early detection and taking the proper steps to manage high blood pressure are very important. Although having certain risk factors can impact treatment, a target goal of 140/90 mmHg is usually recommended.
You can find out by going to your doctor and having your blood pressure measured. Only your doctor can confirm whether you have high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is measured with a sphygmomanometer (a pressure sensor). An inflatable cuff is placed around the arm and inflated to stop the flow of blood in the artery (systolic measurement), while the second measurement corresponds to the return of normal blood flow (diastolic measurement).
Because blood pressure varies during the day, several measurements are required before a diagnosis of hypertension can be made. Blood pressure is measured in both arms while the patient is lying down, sitting or standing. The doctor will wait a few weeks before taking these measurements again and will repeat them a third time a few weeks later. Only when all of these tests are completed can a diagnosis be made.
Taking your own blood pressure is very easy and anyone can do it. There are many styles and models of blood pressure monitors on the market today, and they can be found in pharmacies and big-box stores. Speak to your pharmacist.
Here are a few suggestions when taking your own blood pressure:
Unless it is the result of another disease, hypertension is not curable. It can however, be controlled. In mild cases, it can even be managed without medication.
The following measures can help lower high blood pressure and may also be useful for people with normal blood pressure who wish to prevent hypertension:
When the above measures are not enough to get your blood pressure under control, your physician may prescribe medication. Several agents are available and each has advantages and disadvantages. Remember, there is no cure for hypertension. It is often a lifelong condition that requires treatment. In addition to treatment, lifestyle changes must be made.
Drug therapies must be tailored to the patient's unique needs in order to normalize blood pressure with minimal side effects. Patients frequently require more than one drug. To ensure effective treatment, regular follow-ups with your physician are important. Your physician may also advise you to check your blood pressure at home on a regular basis.
For more information or for support:
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.