Preventative practices help keep hypertension at bay

Denise Deveau, Postmedia Content Works

Sheila Phillips has learned over the years the importance of preventative healthcare. Now that the Kitchener, Ont.-based IT entrepreneur is approaching 50, maintaining healthy blood pressure levels has become a priority.


“Both sides of my family have multitudes of heart issues,” she said. “My 81-year-old mother has blood pressure readings that are off the Richter scale and is on medications. My brother also has a history of heart surgery. That pushed me into exploring how I can do better in living a healthier lifestyle.”


Phillips had reason to be concerned, as family history is among the risk factors for developing high blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) those with one or more close family members who have high blood pressure before the age of 60 have two times the risk of also having high blood pressure. Like many, Phillips’ awareness of her blood pressure evolved over time.


“As I get older, I realize I need to be more mindful of these things. I wanted to better understand this and take preventative measures, rather than dealing with what my mother is going through.” She has since improved sleep, diet and exercise habits to help minimize future risk, and takes supplements clinically proven to maintain blood pressure levels. “While I’m not there yet, I’m ready to retire soon. When that time comes, I want to wake up and do things I want to do like cooking and going for a hike without having to worry about my blood pressure.”


It’s important for people to be mindful of their blood pressure levels and preventative options, said Dr. Ross T. Tsuyuki, professor and chair at the University of Alberta’s department of pharmacology, and board president of Hypertension Canada. “Hypertension is the leading preventable risk factor in the world for premature death and disability. It can lead to all kinds of bad things such as heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease. Since hypertension often doesn’t produce any symptoms, it’s important to keep track of your blood pressure before it’s too late.”


Many may not realize that over half of adults are hypertensive or pre-hypertensive, primarily due to aging, genetics and lifestyle factors such as poor diets and a sedentary lifestyle. “We know that almost 1 in 4 Canadian adults, or at least 7.5 million Canadians suffer from hypertension, but that is just the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Tsuyuki said. “There are another seven million that have high-normal blood pressure – called pre-hypertension – which eventually rises into the hypertensive range. As such, it could be as high as 15 million.”


Dr. Tsuyuki notes that hypertension treatment and control rates in Canada have declined among women. A study found between 2007 and 2017, there was substantial deterioration among women with regards to awareness (72.2 per cent in 2017 vs. 85 per cent in 2007), treatment (65 per cent vs. 82 per cent) and control (49 per cent vs. 67 per cent. “That’s unacceptable,” Tsuyuki says.


Research shows lifestyle factors such as poor diet and low physical activity may increase risk of hypertension. According to Hypertension Canada, elevated blood pressure can be managed by increasing exercise, losing weight, quitting smoking or reducing sodium intake. Apart from lifestyle changes, there are prescription medicines and natural health products that can help maintain blood pressure and cardiovascular health. A physician or pharmacist can help determine which route is best.

One thing that can assist in the diagnosis and management of hypertension is regular measuring and monitoring of blood pressure, said Dr. Raj Padwal, professor of medicine at the University of Alberta,and CEO of mmHg Inc., a physician-led digital health developer of blood pressure monitoring tools. “The reality is, blood pressure is not being recognized and managed as well as it used to be, particularly among women. That’s a big problem that can lead to more strokes and mortality over time.” Frequent measuring is important, as one-off readings taken at a doctor’s office or in a pharmacy may not provide a full picture, Padwal said. “The average is key, since a number of factors can temporarily elevate readings, from emotional stress to exercising. That’s why you need to monitor at home over a period of time.”


Current guidelines recommend two back to back readings in the morning and evening for a week to get an accurate average. Padwal typically recommends people go through the process once a month, or in low-risk cases, every three or six months. Accurate tracking and preventative practices are even more important amid COVID-19, as it allows health care practitioners to better manage patients remotely, and potentially help reduce the risk of preconditions that may affect the outcome of COVID-19.


Phillips firmly believes committing to a more preventative approach is already paying off. “My latest blood pressure readings are perfectly fine. I will keep doing what I’m doing, because I very, very much want to be a healthy and active senior.”