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Getting your blood pressure in check
High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease. High blood pressure is when the blood pressure in your arteries is elevated and your heart has to work harder than normal to pump blood through the blood vessels. It is important that you have your blood pressure checked regularly by your healthcare provider. Read on to learn about blood pressure and how it can be managed.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure or force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels (known as arteries). Your blood pressure reading is based on two measures called systolic and diastolic. The systolic (top) number is the measure of the pressure force when your heart contracts and pushes out the blood. The diastolic (bottom) number is the measure of when your heart relaxes between beats.
The table below defines varying blood pressure categories: normal, normal-high, and high. See your doctor or healthcare provider to get a proper blood pressure measurement.
BLOOD PRESSURE CATEGORIES
If you have diabetes, as well as high blood pressure, you should consult a healthcare provider if your blood pressure level remains greater than 130/80 on more than one occasion.
If your blood pressure level is lower than 120/80 it may be considered normal unless you feel light-headed or dizzy. In this case, your healthcare provider can help you determine if you have low blood pressure. Low blood pressure is when the pressure in your arteries drops and your heart is pumping your blood at a slower rate than normal through your blood vessels.
How do I check my blood pressure?
Make an appointment with your doctor or other healthcare provider to check your blood pressure. It is recommended that you get your blood pressure checked at least once every year. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure (or other related conditions), your doctor may recommend that you get it checked more often. Be sure to ask your doctor how often you should have your blood pressure checked.
What should I do if I have a high blood pressure reading?
If you have one high reading, you should have it checked at least two more times on separate days to determine if it is consistently high.
Keep a record of your blood pressure readings on a blood pressure tracking card. This record will help you and your doctor determine whether your blood pressure is within a healthy range.
What can I do to control my blood pressure?
High blood pressure can be caused by many factors. You can't control some factors, such as age, ethnicity and gender. Other factors, such as diet, exercise and smoking can be changed through lifestyle changes to reduce your risk for high blood pressure.
Measuring your blood pressure at home
Home monitoring can assist your doctor in diagnosing your blood pressure correctly. It is possible for your blood pressure to rise when you visit the doctor's office because you may be anxious. However, your blood pressure can return to normal as you go about your daily activities. By getting your blood pressure measured often can help you determine if your blood pressure is in fact high.
Alternatively, you may experience normal blood pressure when it is measured in the doctor's office, but have high blood pressure in other situations. This is known as masked hypertension. If you are at increased risk of heart disease or stroke (e.g. if you have kidney disease or diabetes), it is important to find out if you have masked hypertension. If this is the case, your doctor may ask you to monitor your blood pressure at home.
It is important to make sure that your home monitor is taking correct measurements so your healthcare provider can get an accurate understanding of your blood pressure.
How can I ensure I'm taking accurate readings at home?
Accurate readings also depend on how you prepare to take your blood pressure. Follow these steps to get the most accurate reading:
How to buy a home blood pressure monitor?
Hypertension Canada educates the public on how to measure blood pressure at home. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you choose a monitor and select a cuff size that is right for you.
The Foundation suggests that the unit be automated instead of manual. Advise your doctor or pharmacist if you have an irregular heart rhythm as some devices may not be advised for individuals with an irregular heartbeat. The Foundation further recommends that you select a device recommended by Hypertension Canada.
Once you have purchased a home monitor, take it to your healthcare provider’s office once or twice a year to make sure it continues to give accurate readings.
Look for this logo or ask a healthcare provider to help you choose the right home blood pressure monitor.
Last reviewed: January 2014
Last modified: July 2014