Blood Pressure is the measure of pressure or force of the blood against the walls of the blood vessels.  Normal blood pressure is recorded as 120/80mmHg (millimetres of mercury).  The 120 is the systolic pressure or when the heart contracts and forces blood into the vessels.  The 80 is the diastolic pressure or when the heart is relaxed.

One in five or 4 million Canadians have high blood pressure with only 13% of these being treated.  High blood pressure is the number 1 risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart and kidney disease.  High blood pressure or hypertension is measured as 140/90mm Hg.  It should be noted that the Heart and Stroke Foundation has released new guidelines stating that high normal blood pressure significantly increases the risk for stroke and heart disease.  High normal blood pressure is listed as 130 – 139/85 – 89mm Hg.  A Quebec study has found that a systolic pressure of 133 – 140 increased the risk of heart attack by 2 times.

The new guidelines also called for earlier intervention and screening to start by the age of 18 as studies show an increase in the numbers with high blood pressure in the 18 – 35 age category.  Especially for those who have a family history of heart disease, stroke and obesity.  Overweight children as young as 9 have a 12% increased risk for high blood pressure and 16 year olds that are obese have a 30% increased risk.

Risk factors for high blood pressure include age (1/2 of people over 65 have high bp), ethnic background (south Asian, first nation and black have increased risk), obesity, stress, excessive alcohol, smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes.  Most of these risk factors can be modified and controlled with lifestyle changes.  In fact it is predicted that up to 3 million people can decrease the need for medication by changing just two lifestyle factors such as regular physical activity, dietary changes to aid in weight management and decreased sodium, stress management techniques, controlled alcohol intake, stop smoking, etc.