Frequently Asked Questions


What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force used to push the blood through your blood vessels.  This force is necessary to make blood flow, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the body.

What is normal blood pressure? What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is described by two numbers – the first number is called the “systolic pressure” and the second the “diastolic pressure.” Systolic pressure is caused by the contraction of the heart, where diastolic pressure is the relaxing of the heart (when it refills with blood).

For most people a reading of less than 140/90 mmHg is preferred.  People with diabetes or kidney disease, most should have a reading of less than 130/80 mmHg. However, your target may vary, and this target should be established with your physician/health care team.

High blood pressure or hypertension is blood pressure that is above the normal range. 

Over time, this high blood pressure causes damage to the arteries, blood vessels and the heart – and a number of health problems like stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure. Anyone can develop high blood pressure, but it is more common in older people.

Once high blood pressure develops it lasts a lifetime but it can be well-managed through active living, a healthy diet, and in some cases, blood pressure medications.

Knowing your blood pressure numbers and how they compare to your blood pressure target is important.  Your physician and health care team can advise you on your target blood pressure. It could be slightly higher or lower than the numbers above.

How is blood pressure measured?

Health care professionals use a stethoscope and a blood pressure machine to measure your blood pressure. Typically, they take the reading above your elbow.

The blood pressure machine has a bladder, cuff, bulb, and a gauge. When the bulb is pumped it inflates the bladder inside the cuff, which is wrapped around your arm.

This inflation will stop the blood flow in your arteries. The stethoscope is used to listen for sound of the heartbeat, and no sound indicates that there is no flow.

As the pressure is released from the bladder in the cuff, you will hear the sound of the blood flowing again. That point becomes systolic reading. The diastolic reading is when you hear no sound again, which means that the blood flow is back to normal.

In addition to the use of the proper measurement equipment and appropriate cuff size, you should be resting comfortably for 5 minutes and your arm supported before the measure is taken.  You should not be talking, and your legs should not be crossed.

See: What is normal blood pressure? What is high blood pressure?

At what age should I begin regularly checking my blood pressure?

Anyone can develop high blood pressure, regardless of race, age, or gender so you should have your blood pressure checked regularly by your physician/health care team.

Am I at risk for high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is common. In Nova Scotia almost 30 percent of adults have high blood pressure. This figure is even higher in people with diabetes and reaches close to 70 percent.

Higher rates are found in older Canadians, persons with diabetes or kidney disease and persons of Aboriginal, African, Hispanic and South Asia descent.

People who are overweight and those with a family history of high blood pressure are also at risk for developing high blood pressure.

What are the common symptoms of high blood pressure?

Most people with high blood pressure have no symptoms. That is why it is called “the silent killer”. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked by a health care professional.

I’ve just been diagnosed with high blood pressure. What do I do now?

It is important to take steps to keep your blood pressure under control. You are the most important member of your health care team. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits is an effective first step in both preventing and controlling high blood pressure:

  • Become more active.  Even short walks help!
  • Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit
  • Eat fewer foods high in salt and limit your salt (sodium) intake
  • If you are overweight, lose weight.  As little as 5-10 pounds can make a difference.
  • Quit smoking
  • Manage stress
  • Limit alcohol.

Know your numbers and how they compare to your blood pressure target. Have your blood pressure checked regularly and follow your treatment plan.

How often should I have my blood pressure checked?

If your blood pressure is normal, have it checked at least once a year during your annual check-up. If you have high blood pressure, your health care provider may want to check it at every visit.

I have high blood pressure. Why should I be concerned?

High blood pressure, if not well managed, can affect your brain, heart and kidneys. It can cause a stroke, heart attack or kidney failure.

I have diabetes. Should I be worried about high blood pressure?

Try not to be worried – but be aware. Having diabetes increases the risk of high blood pressure. In addition to managing your blood sugar, it is important to manage (control) your blood pressure and blood fats (cholesterol). 

Better management of blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood fats will reduce your risk of developing the long-term complications of diabetes.  These complications include eye, kidney, and heart diseases as well as foot and nerve problems.  Early and better management of high blood pressure will help delay and even prevent the development of some of these complications.

I have kidney disease. Should I be worried about high blood pressure?

Your kidneys play a key role in keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range, and blood pressure can affect the health of your kidneys. High blood pressure can damage the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys that remove wastes from the blood. This affects the kidneys' ability to work properly and causes wastes to build up. The damage usually occurs slowly, over many years, and may not cause any symptoms. Once the kidneys have been damaged, they usually don't recover.

If kidney disease is detected early, steps can be taken to help the kidneys work properly for as long as possible. One of the most important ways to do this is by controlling blood pressure.

Should I be checking my blood pressure at home?

It’s recommended , whenever possible, that you have your blood pressure checked by a physician or other health care professional.  Not everyone needs to check their blood pressure at home.  If you are instructed by a health care professional to perform home monitoring, he/she will provide you with instructions on when and how to test as well as what to do with the results.   If you are testing at home, follow these simple steps for consistent readings:

  • Rest for five minutes before taking your measurement.
  • Sit with your feet on the floor and with your back and arm supported. Remember to have the arm you’re checking supported by your side.
  • Remove clothing from your upper arm, and do not wear tight clothing.
  • Avoid talking, watching TV and measuring when you’re upset or in pain – these will all change your readings.

For additional information on:

  • Approved blood pressure machines
  • How to measure your blood pressure

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