BY JANE LANGILLE
WHEN TOMMY PETROGIANNIS found
out in his mid-;;s that he had high blood
pressure, he felt a little self-conscious.
“But my wife said it’s much better to know
and manage the risks,” says Petrogiannis,
a Costco member who lives in Montreal.
Petrogiannis, now ;;, is not alone:
about ;; per cent of Canadians have high
blood pressure, also called hypertension.
It’s the No. ; risk factor for stroke and a
major risk factor for heart disease, and is
known as a “silent killer” because there are
no warning signs or symptoms.
Blood pressure is the force of circulating blood. When it’s too high, it can damage blood vessels. Left untreated, it carries
an increased risk of stroke, heart attack,
heart failure, dementia, kidney disease,
eye problems and erectile dysfunction.
“Hypertension is a sign that arteries are
stiffer or thickened, or there is a pres-
ence of excess plaque. It is more common
as we age and tends to run in families,”
says Dr. Beth Abramson, a cardiologist
at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and
a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke
Foundation of Canada. Petrogiannis notes,
“My parents and sister had hypertension
too. Once I realized it’s part of my DNA, I
was eager to do what I can to control it.”
What the numbers mean
A blood pressure reading has two numbers. The systolic (top) number measures
the force when the heart contracts and
pushes blood out. The diastolic (bottom)
number measures the force as the heart
relaxes and fills with blood. “Both numbers matter. What’s normal for each person depends on whether they have other
health issues; we may accept slightly
higher numbers for someone who’s otherwise healthy than for someone with diabetes,” says Abramson.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of
Canada defines three risk categories for
blood pressure numbers (
systolic/dia-stolic): Low risk is ;;;/;;; medium risk
ranges from ;;; to ;;;/;; to ;;; high risk
is over ;;;/;;. Some exceptions: For people with diabetes, readings should be less
than ;;;/;;; for those over ;; years of
age, the systolic number should generally
be under ;;;.
Monitoring at home
“When done properly, home monitor-
ing is a reliable, accurate method for diag-
nosing and managing high blood pressure
in consultation with your physician,” says
Dr. Raj Padwal, a professor of medicine at
the University of Alberta, a spokesperson
for Hypertension Canada and a co-author
of the organization’s Canadian blood pres-
sure guidelines. “Blood pressure changes
all the time. People need to get away from
thinking about blood pressure as a single
reading at the doctor’s office and look at
their average over time.”
Padwal advises performing a seven-
day test. Take two readings in the morn-
ing and two in the evening for seven days.
Discard the first day’s results and then
calculate the average readings over the
last six days.
To get the most accurate reading each
time, rest for five minutes first, take the
reading while seated and keep a written
or digital log of results to share with your
doctor. The guidelines recommend repeating the seven-day test every three months
in general, more frequently for those with
diabetes, and suggest daily checks for people who may forget to take medication.
A busy executive who travels often,
Petrogiannis has three monitors: one each
for home, work and travel. By tracking his
readings over time, Petrogiannis discovered his blood pressure was dropping too
lo w in the evenings. “Based on my data, my
doctor adjusted the dose and timing of my
medication,” he reports. “Together with
making other healthy lifestyle changes,
my pressure is well controlled now.” C
Jane Langille is a Toronto-area health and
medical writer ( janelangille.com).
Blood pressure monitoring at home
For more information about blood
pressure, check out these resources:
• Heart Health for Canadians: The Definitive
Guide, by Dr. Beth Abramson (Collins,
2013), published in cooperation with the
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.
• Heart and Stroke Foundation:
• Hypertension Canada: hypertension.ca.
• Take your medication if your doctor
has prescribed it.
•Reduce salt. Read labels and cut back
on foods high in sodium.
•Eat a healthy diet. Focus on vegetables,
fruit, low-fat milk products, whole
grains, lean meats, fish, legumes
(beans) and nuts.
•Limit alcohol. Stick to one or two
drinks per day or less.
•Quit smoking. Each cigarette increases
•Be active at least 150 minutes per
week. Moderate physical activity
means you sweat a bit and breathe a
Costco members can find blood pressure
monitors, prescription medications and
exercise equipment at Costco and on
FOR YOUR HEALTH