Blood Pressure

Aug 16, 2011

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

This summer we were lucky enough to camp at Wellman Lake in the Duck Mountains. My unruly brood and a few other families were graciously hosted by Chad and Lori Bicklmeier. We camped in the yard of their cabin. The weather was beautiful, so we spent our time fishing and swimming. My six year old, Eric even got to paddle in the Roncins kayak. He was surprisingly adept and left shore in a big hurry. Good thing we attached a rope to the kayak so I could reel him back in. Later in the evening, we sat around the fire, listened to the loons and swapped stories. Chad told us how a few years earlier they had hosted an exchange student from Hong Kong. They had brought her up to their cabin at Wellman Lake as well. When she heard the loons, the Hong Kong exchange student nearly jumped out of her skin. When Chad finally calmed her down, she told him loon calls were the noises that were always played in Hong Kong horror movies before the killer struck. Later on Chad got to show her loons swimming around and making their previously terrifying noises. Seeing the loons in person gave her a new point of view on their calls.

It is fascinating how different people look at the world. I grew up in Eastern Manitoba and heard lots of loons. I found their calls to be quite soothing. As a teenager I used to be able to make a decent loon call with my cupped hands. Yet this girl from Hong Kong found the loon call terrifying. It is all about your point of view. I bet if I told you that there is a 90% chance you will get a condition that will require you to take a medication everyday for the rest of you life, you would be very concerned. But, from my point of view, I am more concerned that if you dont treat that condition, you have a greater chance of having a heart attack or a stroke.

About 1 in 5 Canadians has high blood pressure right now. Over your lifetime, you have a 90% chance of getting high blood pressure. What is high blood pressure? Your heart is a pump. It squeezes blood through pipes we call blood vessels. These pipes take blood out to the top of your head and the tips of your toes. The blood does lots of important things, but some of its most important jobs are to get food and oxygen out to all the cells and bring back all the waste and carbon dioxide for disposal. To get the blood moving through the blood vessels, the heart has to squeeze the blood. We call this blood pressure. But you will notice the doctor always talks about two blood pressure numbers. They will say things like your blood pressure is 125 over 85. The top number is the amount of pressure the heart has to exert to get the blood through the pipes when it squeezes. This top number is called the systolic blood pressure. The amount of pressure left over in the pipes as the heart muscle relaxes is called the diastolic blood pressure. Unlike the pipes in your house, blood vessels are flexible. They are designed to expand and contract as pulses of blood go through them. But, blood vessels can harden and get plugged. When this happens, the amount of force the heart must exert to get the blood to flow goes up. This is called high blood pressure or hypertension. Why should you care about if you get high blood pressure? Well high blood pressure increases your chance of a stroke, a heart attack, heart failure and kidney disease among other problems.

Blood pressure pills are some of the most common medications we dispense in the pharmacy. Unfortunately, about 1 in 4 people who are put on blood pressure pills stop taking them within six months. About 1 in 2 people stop their blood pressure pills within a year of starting them. It is unfortunate, but understandable why so many people quit their blood pressure pills. They went to the doctor feeling good. Their doctor checked their blood pressure, found it was high, and wrote them a prescription for a pill. In the best case scenario, that pill costs them money every month and they feel no different. In a worst case scenario, the pill costs them money, and gives them some annoying side effects. So within six months the patient goes from feeling well to spending money every month on something that makes them feel worse. Again, no wonder they quit. But, if you are put on a blood pressure pill, you shouldnt quit because although high blood pressure doesnt hurt, if you take that blood pressure pill, you reduce your chance of having a heart attack or a stroke.

So before you accuse me of being my normal pill pushing self, lets talk about how we can treat high blood pressure without medication. If you lose weight loss, exercise, and change your diet you can reduce your blood pressure. Diet changes to reduce blood pressure include reducing the amount of salt, alcohol and high fat dairy you consume, and increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat. But going back to my drug pushing ways, studies show most people will not be able to lower their blood pressure enough by life style changes alone. In fact most people with high blood pressure will need at least two different blood pressure pills to get their pressure to target.

I know many people are afraid of taking medications everyday. They cost money, they can have side effects, and people associate taking pills with being sick. But, people with high blood pressure dont feel sick. I think if you are afraid of taking pills every day, you are afraid of the wrong thing. If you have high blood pressure and are afraid of taking pills, that like being afraid of loon calls. You need a new point of view. If you have high blood pressure, you should be afraid of heart attacks and strokes and do what you can to avoid them.


As always if you have any questions or concerns about these products, ask your pharmacist.

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The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

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Hypertension Canada has developed a website for Canadians with high blood pressure.



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