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WHAT IS HYPERTENSION?

Mayfair • Apr 27, 2022

As your heart contracts, it forces your blood to move through the circulatory system, pushing against the walls of your arteries and creating blood pressure. This helps your circulatory system deliver oxygen and nutrients to nourish tissues and organs and pick up metabolic waste, such as carbon dioxide, to be eliminated from the body.

Your blood pressure varies throughout the day, but, if your blood pressure measures consistently above normal, you may have high blood pressure. Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure causes your heart to work harder. It can increase your risk of developing other health problems, such as heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

It’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly, because high blood pressure is the number one risk for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, more than 66,000 Canadians die from heart disease and stroke each year.

There are two measurements that your doctor will take when determining your blood pressure:

  1. Systolic Pressure: A measurement of the pressure from the contraction of your heart.
  2. Diastolic Pressure: A measurement of the pressure when your heart relaxes between beats.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OR SYMPTOMS OF HYPERTENSION?

Most of the time, there are no signs or symptoms of high blood pressure. The good news is that high blood pressure can be easily detected and is usually taken as part of a routine yearly checkup with your health care practitioner.

WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR HYPERTENSION?

Blood pressure measurements usually fall into three categories.

CATEGORY

SYSTOLIC/DIASTOLIC

Low risk 120/80
Medium risk 121-134/80-84
High risk* 135+/85+

*Please note that if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, the high-risk category for your blood pressure is slightly lower.

The following factors can affect your risk of having high blood pressure:

  • Age: Your risk of high blood pressure increases as you age.
  • Gender: High blood pressure is more common in men until around age 65, when women become more likely to develop it.
  • Family history: Having others in your family with high blood pressure can increase your risk.
  • Weight: The higher your weight the more blood needs to flow through your arteries, which increase your blood pressure.
  • Physical inactivity: The less active you are the higher your heart rate tends to be. This means your heart must work harder and increases the force on your arteries.
  • Using tobacco: Smoking or chewing tobacco causes a temporary rise in blood pressure and can damage the lining of your arterial wall.
  • High-salt diet: If your diet is too high in sodium (salt), it can cause you to retain fluid which increases blood pressure.
  • Heavy drinking: Drinking too much alcohol over time can damage your heart. It’s recommended you limit yourself to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
  • High stress levels: Your blood pressure increases temporarily with high levels of stress.

HOW IS HYPTERTENSION DIAGNOSED?

Your doctor may diagnose you with high blood pressure if your blood pressure cuff measurements are in the high range after multiple visits. Your doctor may then order additional laboratory or imaging tests to determine what is causing your high blood pressure levels. High blood pressure could be the result of lifestyle or genetic factors, or it could be a symptom of another underlying medical condition. Finding the root cause helps your doctor plan effective high blood pressure treatment options.

Medical imaging can by used to assess your heart function and blood flow (exercise stress testingmyocardial perfusion imaging). A coronary computed tomography (CT) angiography may also be appropriate.

CT angiography can be used to non-invasively examine the coronary arteries. Using a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce comprehensive images, this exam can detect both calcified (hard) plaques and noncalcified (soft) plaques. Patients with family histories of heart disease may be at risk for developing atherosclerotic plaque buildup, blocking or narrowing arteries. Blocked or narrow arteries can increase blood pressure. On CT, the status of your arteries can be examined in great detail.

HOW DO I GET CT IMAGING?

At Mayfair, we offer private CT angiography services that can be diagnostic or screening. Diagnostic CT exams are performed when you have symptoms, to identify a cause, or if your doctor has discovered an abnormality. CT screening exams, on the other hand, help detect diseases before you have symptoms, while they can still be successfully treated.

CT angiography is available as a private pay exam, not covered by Alberta Health Care, at our Mayfair Place location. It can be purchased on its own or as part of a Health Assessment package, which provides a discount on multiple imaging exams when purchased together.

Your health spending account or group medical insurance plan may cover the cost of a private CT that is prescribed by a qualified health care practitioner. You will need to check with your plan administrator for coverage details.

Whether public or private, medical imaging must be requested by a health care practitioner who will provide a requisition. A patient’s medical and family history, risk factors, and type and duration of symptoms, all affect a referring physician’s decision on which type of imaging is appropriate.

When we receive your requisition Mayfair Diagnostics will schedule your exam and provide you with detailed information to prepare for it. Once your exam is completed, your images will be reviewed by a specialized radiologist who will compile a report that is sent to your doctor.

ARE THESE EXAMS SAFE?

A CT scanner uses X-rays that move 360 degrees around the body to create a CT scan which can demonstrate different levels of tissue density. This data is transmitted to a computer, which builds a cross-sectional picture of the area of the body being scanned. CT scans can be performed on any part of the body.

Exposure to radiation in a CT scan is higher than that of standard X-rays, although the associated risk is still small. For example, the radiation exposure from one low-dose CT scan of the chest is a similar amount of radiation as every person receives from the earth's natural background radiation over three months or during a few long-haul flights.

At Mayfair, we strive to ensure the lowest possible dose for your CT study without compromising quality, and usually the benefit of detecting serious illness early outweighs the increased risk from radiation exposure.

Mayfair Diagnostics offers CT imaging at our Mayfair Place location. For more information, please visit our services page.


REFERENCES

American Heart Association (2022) “Understanding Blood Pressure Readings.” www.heart.org. Accessed April 25, 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021) “High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes.” www.cdc.gov. Accessed April 25, 2022.

Hanes, E. (2020) “What to Expect After a Hypertension Diagnosis.” www.healthgrades.com. Accessed April 25, 2022.

Heart and Stroke Foundation (2022) “High blood pressure.” www.heartandstroke.ca. Accessed April 25, 2022.

Mayo Clinic (2021) “High blood pressure (hypertension).” www.mayoclinic.org. Accessed April 25, 2022.

Heart Health, Healthy Living
Cardiac Imaging