“Hypertension” is a common term in the health industry, but many people don’t know what it means. Dr. Mark Gelfer of Copeman Healthcare sat down with Linda Steele from the CKNW Health Check to explain what it is and how you can help to prevent it.
What exactly is hypertension?
Hypertension is a complex disease that results when the blood pressure within the arteries rises above an accepted maximum. This forces the heart to work harder (meaning the entire system must work harder) and it puts a strain on the whole cardiovascular system. This could impact sensitive organs like the brain, eyes, and kidneys. It is incredibly common – in fact, research shows us that nearly 7.5 million Canadians (or one in five people) are now living with hypertension. It is probably the most common reason that Canadians visit their family doctors.
What are the symptoms of hypertension and what can happen if it goes untreated?
Unfortunately there are very few symptoms of hypertension. It’s earned this title of the “silent disease,” as it truly is very silent – until it causes problems. The biggest problem if it goes untreated is the impact it could have on the organs. This typically involves the heart and more specifically heart failure. It is the number one cause of stroke and can lead to kidney failure, damage to eyes, and other organs.
Since it is so hard to diagnose, how do we determine whether or not we have hypertension?
Diagnosis sounds like it should be fairly simple, however it’s not quite as simple as we’d like it to be. This is because the actual methods of taking blood pressure are quite variable. For example, a reading at a pharmacy kiosk can be quite different from an at-home blood pressure cuff, or even from what we see in our own clinic.
At Copeman, we aim to take consistent readings in our offices or even send patients home with a 24 hour blood pressure monitor in order to determine whether or not they are truly hypertensive. For the best chance of proper diagnosis, it is important go for an annual screening. That way you can consistently monitor changes in your blood pressure and it can be addressed accordingly.
If it turns out that I am hypertensive, what do I do about it?
The key to management truly lies in prevention. Once you’re diagnosed (or even if it looks like you might be pre-hypertensive), the best thing to do is start a treatment program. This starts with a combination of many things that make up a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and maintaining a diet lower in sodium and higher in fiber, with of lots of fruits and vegetables. This is also where the concept of collaborative care management comes in and it can really help to make a difference.
What is the number one thing that you would like people to remember when it comes to hypertension?
At the end of the day, the healthier your lifestyle is, the better off you will be. The key to preventing hypertension is really just to start early and to get a complete health assessment to be able to find out where you stand. This will help you to truly maintain good health in the long run.