HIGH blood pressure (hypertension) does not commonly present noticeable symptoms, despite a common myth citing headaches as the telltale indicator. A true diagnosis is made with three or more isolated readings taken by a healthcare professional. Each visit’s reading is calculated by averaging two to three blood pressure measurements.

To ensure accurate results:

Avoid food, caffeine, tobacco and alcohol for at least 30 minutes before testing.

Sit with both feet planted on the ground, legs uncrossed, and rest for five minutes before beginning the test.

Do not speak while taking measurement. Use a bare arm in the blood pressure cuff.

Wait one to three minutes between measurements.

Your results are a combination of two numbers. The top number (systolic) indicates the blood pressure when the heart is contracting. The lower number (diastolic) represents the blood pressure when the heart is at rest. Ideal blood pressure is less than 120/80, pre-hypertension is indicated at 120–139/80–89, and high blood pressure typically measures above 140/90.

Many people assume that a diagnosis of high blood pressure means they will be prescribed pills, but in the absence of high risk factors or organ damage, most health care professionals recommend lifestyle changes first. Adopting an exercise regimen of 30-60 minutes of medium intensity exercise at least three times a week can result in a blood pressure drop of up to 10 points.

Reducing salt intake by 1800 mg/day and decreasing alcohol consumption can also help control blood pressure. Weight loss may also be a factor.

Following the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet—a meal plan high in fruit, vegetables and fibre, and low in fats and sodium—can have the most significant impact with a drop of 11.4/5.5 points.

What to do: Talk to your pharmacist or doctor for more information on what you can do to achieve a healthy blood pressure

More Inspiration: You might also find this article on steps to reduce heart disease in women insightful.

Author: Heather Cross, B.Sc. PHARM, CGP is a practising pharmacist in Toronto with a pharmacy degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS. She regularly contributes to Optimyz print magazine’s Ask a pharmacist column.

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