What you need to know about high blood pressure

01 07, 2021
gabriel

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Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a major cause of premature death worldwide. According to the Global Health Observatory, it causes over 7.5 million deaths per year, and it is one of the leading causes of coronary heart disease and stroke.

In Canada, even with all the progress made to improve hypertension detection, treatment, and control, it is still the predominant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, affecting one in every four adults.

Since it is the most common chronic condition among older adults, the Canadian Hypertension Society recommends that all adults have their blood pressure checked every year, or, if additional risk factors are present, more frequently, so that they can take the appropriate measures to control and treat it.

Considering that hypertension can profoundly affect your life in many ways, it is recommendable to monitor it, especially as you get older and more vulnerable to diseases. If hypertension is something you worry about, information is key to understand it, and, most importantly, prevent it.

Below we will explain high blood pressure and its main risk factors, how to prevent and treat it, and how you can get insured with this condition - because yes, it is possible!

What exactly is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels, known as arteries. Blood pressure readings are in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). The top number (called systolic) indicates the arteries’ pressure as the heartbeats, while the lower number (diastolic) indicates the pressure as the heart rests between beats.

Normal blood pressure is systolic blood pressure less than 130 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure less than 85 mmHg. As such, to be diagnosed with hypertension, you need to showcase a systolic pressure of 130+, or a diastolic pressure of 85+, that stays high over time.

The silent killer

High blood pressure can harm your body in many ways, and the worst part is that it can do so quietly, without developing noticeable symptoms. In time, it can severely interfere with many organs and body functions, causing, among many other things, kidney failure, coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, dementia, blindness, and sexual dysfunction.

Since there are very few warning signs associated with hypertension, many people are unaware of the problem. But other people identify a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, nosebleeds, irregular heart rhythms, vision changes, muscle tremors, chest pain, extreme fatigue, and anxiety.

Many refer to hypertension as the silent killer, which is why it is essential to do routine examinations, such as blood tests and electrocardiograms. Worldwide, a significant proportion of people with high blood pressure remain unaware of their diagnosis, and of those who are aware, only a minority manages to get it successfully under control.

Who is at risk for high blood pressure?

Anyone can develop high blood pressure. However, certain hereditary and physical factors can put you at higher risk. These are some of them:

  • Family history. If you have family members that suffer from hypertension, there is a significant probability that you will also get it.
  • Age. The older you are, the more likely you are to get hypertension.
  • Gender. According to Heart & Stroke Canada, after 65, Canadian women are more likely than men to get high blood pressure.
  • Weight. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions. Certain heart defects, kidney disorders, and conditions (such as cholesterol) can also raise your risk for high blood pressure.

But that isn’t all. There are also many modifiable factors that you should take into account, such as:

  • Lack of physical activity. Not getting enough physical activity increases your risk of getting high blood pressure.
  • Unhealthy diet. Those that have a poor diet, especially high in sodium, have a higher risk of developing hypertension.
  • Drinking/smoking too much. Cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol drinking raises blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Stressful lifestyle. As many studies suggest, stress contributes to the development of hypertension.

Ways to prevent (and lower) high blood pressure

If you already have prehypertension (which means that you are likely to develop high blood pressure), or if it runs in your family history, you should start making changes in your lifestyle as soon as possible to avoid further complications. Hypertension is a definite health hazard, so it is advisable to follow the prevention guidelines proposed by organizations like Hypertension Canada. Here is a list of good practices that you should apply to your daily life promptly:

If you already have prehypertension (which means that you are likely to develop high blood pressure), or if it runs in your family history, you should start making changes in your lifestyle as soon as possible to avoid further complications. Hypertension is a definite health hazard, so it is advisable to follow the prevention guidelines proposed by organizations like Hypertension Canada. Here is a list of good practices that you should apply to your daily life promptly:

  • Stick to an exercise routine.

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health, but, as statistics show, 85% of Canadians are not meeting the weekly physical activity recommendations. If you are included in this percentage, it is time to change this mindset, especially if hypertension worries you.
Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort, which means that blood pressure will be more normalized.

You don’t need to run a marathon or sign up for a gym! Thirty minutes of brisk walking or another aerobic activity per day is more than enough. Besides, there are many ways to make exercise part of your lifestyle without too much inconvenience. For instance, you can start using the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther away from your workplace or the supermarket, take short walks on your lunch break, and incorporate simple stretching exercises into your morning routine.

  • Lose weight (mainly if you are overweight).

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of having hypertension, but also of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke, noninsulin-dependent diabetes, certain cancers, and numerous other disorders. As such, caring about your weight should always be a priority, especially if you are overweight or already have hypertension. There is no magic formula for weight loss. You can follow the most general guidelines (which include avoiding processed food, consuming more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, and so on), but it is crucial to find a proper plan with the help of a professional.

Every metabolism is different, so the best thing for you to do is get a personalized diet plan from a nutritionist. Then, all you will need is about 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity regularly to start seeing results.
But keep this in mind: if you have heart trouble or have had a heart attack if you are over 50 and are not used to physical activity, or if you suffer from any type of condition, you should check with a doctor before starting to exercise.

  • Adopt a healthy diet.

Eating healthy is critical for those who struggle (or fear) high blood pressure. In Canada, several studies related to this matter led to creating The Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension (DASH Diet), which aims to reduce blood pressure through changes in diet. Broadly, it consists of an eating plan rich in vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy foods, and lower in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol.

As research concluded, DASH has an outstanding effect on blood pressure, lowering levels within two weeks of starting the plan. One of the most important elements of this diet is related to the consumption of salt. According to it, Canadians should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium (about one teaspoon of table salt) a day. It also stresses the importance of avoiding highly processed foods, just like canned food and sugar-sweetened beverages.

  • Limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption.

If you are committed to change your lifestyle and become a healthier person, you should also limit your consumption of alcohol and caffeine. According to the DASH diet, you should limit yourself to no more than two drinks a day and, ideally, avoid those that contain too much sugar. Remember: alcohol not only hurts your blood pressure; it is also destructive to the liver, brain, and heart. The same goes for caffeine.

While coffee stimulates the nervous system, increasing alertness, it can also raise blood pressure, especially in people who are not accustomed to the substance. Although caffeine's long-term effects on blood pressure aren't clear, it is always reasonable to limit its consumption, especially if you are sensitive to its effects. If you already have prehypertension or hypertension, you should avoid it as much as possible, especially before activities that naturally increase your blood pressure, such as exercise or weightlifting.

  • Quit smoking.

Did you know that nicotine raises your blood pressure and heart rate, narrows your arteries, and makes your blood more likely to clot? Cigarette smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals, and, as many studies concluded, it isn’t just bad for your lungs; it also damages the heart. Quitting smoking helps your blood pressure return to normal, and lowers your risk of developing recurrent heart attack and cardiovascular death. In fact, according to WHO, if you manage to quit for a year, you will be dropping your risk of coronary heart disease to about half that of a smoker's.

Quitting smoking is quite tricky, but it is achievable and undoubtedly worth the try. If you struggle with it, remember that a medicinal cessation therapy (such as nicotine replacement therapy) can be a great ally on your journey.

  • Take care of your mental health.

A stressful lifestyle can lead to mental health problems and many medical issues. High blood pressure is one of them. This is why taking care of your mental health is as important as caring for your physical body; you can’t have one without the other.
And if you have an anxiety disorder or depressive tendencies, this is even more important.

Most doctors agree that activities that teach you to focus on your breathing help lower blood pressure and general anxiety. As such, if you want to nurture your mental well-being, you could try to practice yoga or meditation. As a study developed by the Department of Psychology of the University of California suggests, yoga can reasonably reduce high blood pressure, while also lowering the risk of heart problems, chronic kidney disease, and strokes. Time to start making some Salutes to the Sun!

  • Improve your sleep.

High blood pressure is one of the many risks associated with not getting enough sleep. In 2019, the University of Arizona conducted a study connecting sleepless nights with hypertension. As it concluded, something as banal as “a bad night's sleep” could result in a substantial spike in blood pressure the following day. Sleep impacts overall cardiovascular health, and it is not just about the amount of time you spend in bed, but mainly the quality of sleep you are getting.

If you want to enjoy more relaxed and uninterrupted nights, there are some changes you should make to your sleeping routine. First, it is essential to keep a consistent schedule, with at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Then, you can also optimize your bedroom environment (temperature, light, noise, etc.) and try relaxing teas and natural sleep-promoting supplements.

  • Seek professional help.

All these suggestions are important, but they might not be enough to reach impeccable heart health. If you are worried about developing hypertension or have been diagnosed with it, you must seek professional guidance.

If a change in lifestyle isn't enough, your doctor will likely prescribe you blood pressure medication, which can range from diuretics to blood vessel dilators.

Even if you manage to control your hypertension, remember: this isn't a problem you can treat and then ignore. You might be able to stop taking blood pressure medication or naturally lower your levels, but maintaining healthy habits is still essential. Keep a nutritious diet, exercise, have a good sleep, and, most importantly, don’t stop monitoring your blood pressure. You can, for instance, buy a blood pressure monitor and frequently check your values. This way, you can keep track of the results and show them to your physician every time you have an appointment.

High blood pressure affects your chances of getting insured

When applying for a life insurance policy, most companies will ask you to go through a medical exam or answer a comprehensive health questionnaire. This way, based on your health status and family history, they can assess how risky you are to insure. Having high blood pressure is considered a major risk factor because it can lead to severe health issues, such as strokes, kidney failure, or coronary artery disease. As a result, you may be denied coverage, or you may face very high premiums.
Not all insurance companies view high blood pressure the same way, but it is irrefutable that these kinds of health problems make you a very risky (and even inadmissible) applicant.

… but not with Speciality Life Insurance!

Luckily for you, at Speciality Life Insurance we can get you covered regardless of your health status or history. Our three insurance plans - Critical Illness Insurance, Accidental Death Insurance, and Excelsior Plan - offer you guaranteed acceptance, so that you can get the coverage you need with no barriers. Your health will not affect your eligibility or rates, even if you were denied insurance in the past.

Our plans are flexible, affordable, and easy to obtain. If you want to see it firsthand, follow our guide on how to buy insurance from Speciality Life Insurance or contact our team of experts. We will be delighted to walk you through the process and show you how simple it can be to get insured - even if you suffer from high blood pressure or any other condition!

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