What Can Happen if I Have Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure and What Can I Do to Lower It?

According to the guidelines of the Hypertension: 2007 public recommendations from the Canadian Hypertension Society, if your blood pressure is measured at 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) or more, and stays at that level, you have high blood pressure. If you have diabetes or kidney disease, high blood pressure is defined as 130/80 mmHg. For more information about high blood pressure, see “I've been told I have high blood pressure - what does that mean?

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can be harmful to your body and can:

  • damage the walls of your arteries, possibly causing tears or bulges (aneurysms) in the arteries of the brain, heart, kidneys, abdomen, legs and eyes
  • speed up hardening of your arteries
  • lead to an enlarged heart and heart failure.

Artery damage and hardening of the arteries can cause:

  • heart disease and heart attacks
  • strokes
  • kidney failure
  • loss of eye sight
  • reduced blood supply to the brain
  • aneurysms.

Is there anything I can do to lower my blood pressure?

If your doctor prescribes medication for your high blood pressure, make sure you take it as directed. Don't skip or increase a dose or stop taking your medication without checking with your doctor first.

A healthy lifestyle is important for anyone with hypertension. Some tips for a healthy lifestyle include:

  • Stop using products containing nicotine, such as cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff and nicotine-containing gum.
  • Reduce your exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • Limit your alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks per day for men, and one drink for women.
  • Spend time on things you enjoy doing and being with people you like being with.
  • Manage the stress in your life by figuring out what situations make you feel stressed and find ways to avoid these situations.
  • Maintain a healthy weight by eating healthy foods and enjoying physical activity most days of the week. If you're overweight, losing 8-10 pounds can significantly reduce blood pressure.
  • Choose foods according to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan.

Should I be eating certain foods to control my blood pressure?

The DASH eating plan is the most often-used dietary method of reducing high blood pressure. Using DASH, your overall diet should be rich in nutrients including potassium, calcium, magnesium and fibre, while being low in sodium, saturated fat and total fat.

This eating plan suggests that you:

  • enjoy at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day
  • choose at least 2 servings of lower-fat dairy products each day
  • choose whole grain breads, cereals and baked goods
  • limit the salt and condiments that you add to your food, both at the table and while cooking
  • limit eating greasy snack foods, regular soft drinks, candy and other high-sugar, high-fat and salty snack foods
  • eat fats such as canola and olive oil, peanut butter and nuts, but keep the quantities small.

Additional Resources

Prepared by Alberta Health Services. This FAQ appeared originally on the Canadian Health Network Web site.

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