Blood Pressure

Oct 21, 2014

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

I am just going to ignore the flies in my truck. I was out at the lake doing some yard work. I opened the hatch of my SUV and a dozen flies flew in there and took up residence. I cant get them out. Ive driven around with the windows open and tried to shoo them out, but that didnt work. Ive tried to swat them while driving. That didnt work. On top of that, shooing and swatting flies while driving has to be dangerous for myself and others. Forgetting about the flies is relatively easy because when the truck gets cold overnight, the flies go dormant. I forget they are even in there until the truck warms up and they start distracting me again. Maybe flies in my truck are too dangerous to ignore.

Having high blood pressure is like having flies in your truck. It really is too dangerous to ignore. About 1 in 5 Canadians has high 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. You will notice the doctor always talks about two blood pressure numbers. They will say things like they want your blood pressure less than 140/90. 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 should give it a chance, because although high blood pressure doesnt hurt a stroke or heart attack does.

How we can treat high blood pressure without medication? If you lose weight, exercise, and change your diet you can reduce your blood pressure. If you lose 10 kg or 22lbs, you can reduce your blood pressure by about the same amount as being on one blood pressure pill. Diet changes to reduce blood pressure include reducing the amount of salt, alcohol and saturated fats you consume. You should also increase the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat. If you reduce your salt intake to less than about 1 teaspoon per day, that can also reduce your blood pressure by about the same as adding one blood pressure pill. The tricky part is most of the salt in our diet isnt from what we add at the table with the salt shaker. Most of it is from eating processed food. There is a lot of salt added when a food is packaged for you. The only way to know for sure how much salt you eat is to prepare all or most of your own food at home. That can be a very tall order for many people.

What blood pressure pill should I be on? You and your doctor will talk about what other conditions you have first. If you have high blood pressure, but no other conditions, you might be put on a diuretic. A diuretic like hydrochlorothiazide makes you pee out some excess fluid and that decreases your blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure and diabetes your doctor might choose an ACE inhibitor because it has some extra protective qualities for the kidney and the heart. If you just had a heart attack your doctor might put you on a beta-blocker. The beta-blocker will slow down your heart a little. This will reduce your blood pressure and help your heart not to work as hard. This will help your heart heal better after the heart attack.

Around the world, high blood pressure causes an estimated 18% of deaths or about 9.4 million people annually. It really is too dangerous to ignore. High blood pressure isnt usually difficult to treat. Eat less salt. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Get more exercise. Take a pill every day. This really isnt onerous like cancer chemotherapy or open heart surgery. When it comes to flies in my truck, maybe Ive missed the easy solutions. I considered fly paper from my rear view mirror, but that might be distracting as well. I could put something stinky outside my truck and hope to draw them out, but I might attract more wild life or annoy my neighbors. I think Ill just wait for winter to come and freeze the flies solid.

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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