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May is Blood Pressure Awareness Month

High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – affects one in five Canadians. It is the number-one risk factor for stroke, and a major risk factor for heart disease. The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends having your blood pressure checked at least once every two years, or more often if directed by your healthcare provider.

What is blood pressure?

With each beat of your heart, blood is pumped out of the heart and into the blood vessels (arteries), which carry blood throughout your body. Blood pressure is a measurement of the pressure or force inside your blood vessels.  High blood pressure means the pressure is above normal.

Who is more likely to have high blood pressure?

  • People with family members who have high blood pressure or a history of heart disease or diabetes
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Women who take birth control pills
  • People over the age of 60
  • People who are overweight
  • People who are not active
  • People who drink a lot of alcohol
  • People who eat too many fatty foods or foods with too much salt
  • People who smoke

What to do if you have high blood pressure

The goal is to lower your blood pressure to less than 140/90 mmHg in most people and to less than 130/80 mmHg in people with diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

If you have high blood pressure:

  • Eat healthy foods that are low in salt and fat.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Take high blood pressure medication if your doctor prescribes it, and follow the directions carefully. Do not abruptly stop taking high blood pressure medications, even if your blood pressure numbers have improved, as this can cause serious harm to your body.
  • Have regular blood pressure checks, and check your own blood pressure at home as directed by your doctor.

Assess your risk of hypertension with the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Online Blood Pressure Action Plan tool.

What can happen if high blood pressure is not treated?

  • Stroke
  • Enlarged heart
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Hemorrhages in the blood vessels of the eye
  • Peripheral vascular disease, including poor circulation in the legs, claudication (cramp-like pain in the calves), or aneurysm (abnormal enlargement or bulging of an artery caused by damage to or weakness in the blood vessel wall)