Blood Pressure

Jul 16, 2012

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Mom, Trevor just called me brilliant! Ah, the joys of having a younger sister. When I was about 7, I remember telling Michelle that I had learned a horrible, horrible new insult. I said I couldnt even tell her what it was. Eventually, I let her pry it out of me. I called her the bad word. I called her brilliant, and she immediately told on me. My son, Eric was at a British soccer camp last week. He really enjoyed it. The two guys and one girl from the UK were very good with the Dauphin kids who varied in age from 4 to 17. Eric was with the little kids, and their coach, Coach Luke, was very patient with them. The Dauphin kids got a giggle out of Coach Luke calling their soccer shoes boots, telling them to strike the ball instead of kick it, and calling the goalie a keeper. But most of all, they liked that he said everything they did was brilliant. I guess Erics soccer camp alumni wont be fooled into thinking that brilliant is the bad B word.


About 1 in 5 Canadians has another bad B word. That B word is blood pressure. Over your life time, 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 if you get high blood pressure? Well high blood pressure increases your chance of stroke, 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. Dr. Hrabarchuk often says if you lose a significant amount of weight, you can reduce your blood pressure by the equivalent of one blood pressure pill. But going back to my drug pushing ways, studies show most people will not be able to lower their blood pressure enough to reduce their chances of heart attacks and strokes 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.


So Im sorry I made my little sister think brilliant was a bad B word. She turned out okay though. She is now a super-athlete triathloning, rock climbing, snowboarding physiotherapist in BC. You can turn out okay too. High blood pressure doesnt have to be a bad B word. Yes you will probably have to take more than one blood pressure pill. Yes you should get some exercise and eat more veggies. But if you do these things, you can avoid the really bad words like heart attacks and strokes.


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


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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