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Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a major health concern that comes with very little symptoms.
This can make it difficult to diagnose, and if left untreated can cause serious complications like stroke, heart disease and more.
According to a new national survey of by the Heart & Stroke foundation, almost 1,000 health experts found the increasing rates of high blood pressure in Canada to be a significant issue.
"High blood pressure is preventable from following a healthy lifestyle."Dr. Sheldon Tobe
The lack of awareness, detection and eventual treatment — almost certainly made worst by the pandemic — were identified as areas for improvement.
"Right now, almost eight million adults in Canada (about one in four) are affected by high blood pressure. As the population ages, this number will only rise as hypertension almost certainly increases with age," Dr. Sheldon Tobe, a nephrologist at Sunnybrook Hosptial in Toronto, told Yahoo Canada. "And it's crazy because high blood pressure is preventable from following a healthy lifestyle."
Read on to learn more about high blood pressure, its risks and how to prevent the condition.
What is high blood pressure?
According to Tobe, "blood pressure is the pressure that's in our blood vessels that is created by the action of the pumping of the heart."
For most people, normal blood pressure levels should be around 140/90 mmHg or lower, or less than 130/80 mmHg for people who have diabetes, as per the Government of Canada.
However, having high blood pressure is pressure that's above the norms. This can lead to our blood vessels wearing out, and can cause permanent damage to our organs.
To help people understand the effects of high blood pressure over time, Tobe gives the "garden hose" analogy.
"The aging process leads to narrowing of the arteries that contributes to the higher blood pressure. I always give an analogy to my patients that if we tighten the nozzle on a garden hose, the pressure rises. And as we age, our arteries tend to get smaller leading to progressive rises in blood pressure," he explains.
How does lifestyle affect high blood pressure?
According to Tobe, our lifestyle dramatically impacts our ability to develop high blood pressure.
Specifically, the health expert reveals that the food we eat and how much we exercise can be key contributors to the condition.
"If our lifestyle and diet is full of sodium — remembering that 80 per cent of the sodium in our diets comes from fast food and processed foods — it's like we're turning the tap on for that garden hose, pushing more volume into the hose and raising the pressure," Tobe says. "And if we don't exercise our body and stay fit, or if we're sedentary, we're causing premature aging or narrowing of our blood vessels."
"Often, there are no glaring signs and symptoms of high blood pressure until it's too late."Dr. Sheldon Tobe
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Tobe adds that many more people have become more sedentary — particularly the elderly who can "least afford" to lose what fitness they had.
Moreover, the expert says there's been "a lot more" alcohol consumption than there once was, which also drives high blood pressure.
What are the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure?
"Unfortunately, one of the only ways we know if someone has high blood pressure is by diagnosing and measuring it," says Tobe. "Often, there are no glaring signs and symptoms of high blood pressure until it's too late, and that's why it's known as the silent killer.
Despite the fact that most people with high blood pressure have no symptoms, the Government of Canada notes that dizziness, headaches, vision problems and shortness of breath can be possible warning signs.
Because many people were unable to see their healthcare providers in the thick of the pandemic, Tobe adds that a large number of people went undiagnosed.
"People who were locked down and who developed high blood pressure during the pandemic have largely gone undiagnosed by their doctors, which is concerning," he explains. "And the longer it takes from undiagnosis to treatment, the harder it is to keep under control."
What are the risks of having high blood pressure?
There are plenty of risks of having high blood pressure.
Specifically, Tobe notes the condition can lead to other more serious health concerns.
"As a healthcare professional, high blood pressure is one of the reasons why people have a loss of kidney function that ends up leading to dialysis. More scary than that, uncontrolled high blood pressure is a major cause of stroke, that robs patients of their cognitive abilities and precludes to dementia," he says.
"Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a major cause of stroke, that robs patients of their cognitive abilities and precludes to dementia."Dr. Sheldon Tobe
Health Canada adds that high blood pressure puts people at a greater risk for heart disease, loss of brain function and loss of eyesight.
What happens if high blood pressure goes untreated?
Similar to the risks, if high blood pressure goes untreated it can lead to heart problems, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, dementia and erectile dysfunction.
"To me, it's almost worse than death," Tobe says. "If gone untreated, all the blood vessels in the body are wearing our prematurely. All our important organs are becoming damaged. And it's all preventable!"
How can I prevent high blood pressure?
"To prevent long-term effects of high blood pressure, it's important that we diagnose it. Go to your doctor frequently to monitor your levels," Tobe suggests.
If you cannot get to see your doctor or a healthcare professional easily, you can go to the pharmacy and measure your levels on a self-serve blood pressure device. Or, you can buy a blood pressure device to measure your levels at home.
Additionally, a key way to help prevent high blood pressure is to keep physically active.
"Physical activity for 40 minutes four or more days of the week is recommended. If someone has a disability, any sort of movement is great. But something is better than nothing, so even getting up and walking for five minutes a day is much better than being sedentary," Tobe suggests.
The nephrologist also recommends people watch what they eat and drink.
"Consuming salt and alcohol in moderation is best," he explains.