High Blood Pressure 101

The whats, the why’s and the what-nexts of a hypertension diagnosis.

High blood pressure, sometimes known as hypertension, is a condition where blood circulating throughout the body exerts too high of a pressure against the walls of the blood vessels (think of water flowing through a hose, the pressure needs to be “just right” or you risk damage). If not managed, high blood pressure risks causing damage to our blood vessels and vital organs, as well as increasing our risk for heart attack, angina and stroke. While less severe, high blood pressure can also cause dizziness, headaches and nose bloods negatively affecting our daily lives as well.

Many people don’t realize they have high blood pressure until they check it! Checking your blood pressure and knowing your numbers is absolutely essential. You can check your blood pressure at your local pharmacist, or low-cost options are available for home purchase.  You can check out some devices recommended by Hypertension Canada here.

Be Aware. Stay Prepared.

The first step to impacting blood pressure is empowering ourselves to know and understand what these values mean; for example, when we see a reading of 130/90, what do those numbers mean? How can we give these numbers significance?

The first number displayed is known as systolic blood pressure, or the pressure on blood vessel walls as our heart muscles squeeze to propel blood around the body. The second number, diastole, is the pressure blood exerts on the vessel walls as the heart relaxes between contractions. To get a complete measure of blood pressure, both readings are used in testing blood pressure.

Blood Pressure readings will lead to a range of results, almost like readings on an odometer: if blood pressure is too low (hypotension) an individual risks fainting, falls and weakness… too high, and we run the risk of the health problems mentioned above. Just like goldilocks, we are looking for that “just right” reading.

The Mayo Clinic (2019) has created an awesome, user friendly guide to interpreting blood pressure readings. (this guide does not replace the guidance of your health care team, always consult with your health care team before making any lifestyle changes).

Top number (systolic) in mm Hg And/or Bottom number (diastolic) in mm Hg Your category* What to do†
Below 120 and Below 80 Normal blood pressure Maintain or adopt a healthy lifestyle.
120-129 and Below 80 Elevated blood pressure Maintain or adopt a healthy lifestyle.
130-139 or 80-89 Stage 1 high blood pressure (hypertension) Maintain or adopt a healthy lifestyle. Talk to your doctor about taking one or more medications.
140 or higher or 90 or higher Stage 2 high blood pressure (hypertension) Maintain or adopt a healthy lifestyle. Talk to your doctor about taking more than one medication.


What next?

Where does your blood pressure fall on this spectrum? No matter where your readings fall, here are a few strategies to help you achieve or maintain a healthy blood pressure:

  • Monitor your blood pressure between visits with your doctor, see if any fluctuations occur between weeks, and note your habits or anything that may have occurred to impact your blood pressure. If your blood pressure changes suddenly and unexpectedly, contact a healthcare professional.
  • Ditch the smoke. Smoking is one of the number one risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Not only does smoking raise our blood pressure, but wreaks havoc on our arteries, hearts and lungs and countless other systems of our bodies.
  • Be physically active; The Government of Canada recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity (intensities at which you should notice a heart rate increase, and be unable to sing), but getting upright and moving is a great, impactful first step.
  • Eat mindfully; fill your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and high protein foods, limiting how much saturated fats, salt and sugar you add to your meals. Opt for spices and herbs to keep things flavourful and skip the salt
  • Take your medications as prescribed and keep your doctor in the loop regarding how they make you feel and your goals surrounding medications, honesty and adherence are key!
  • Consume alcohol and caffeine in moderation
  • Manage stress; Whatever helps you ease stress, do it! Practice a hobby, meditate, try a yoga video, or talk to your team about stress management techniques.

You can do everything absolutely right to manage your blood pressure, however factors such as your genetics are out of your control and play a role in your blood pressure readings. Medication may be no fun, however if it helps lower your risk of bigger health issues, they are essential to achieving and  maintaining good health.