Stroke and heart disease kills thousands of Canadians each year, but knowing your blood pressure readings is an easy way to protect yourself.

High blood pressure is often called the silent killer. One in five Canadians have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, but one in six of those individuals are unaware of their condition.

"Hypertension is a significant risk factor for stroke and heart disease and if left untreated, it can lead to heart and kidney failure, dementia, and other chronic diseases."

“Hypertension is called the silent killer because, unless you monitor it, you can’t tell if you have it,” says Laura Weyland, Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist and certified diabetes educator. “Unless you know that you are in an at-risk group or have a familial history of hypertension, it probably won’t be at the forefront of your mind.”

Hypertension is a significant risk factor for stroke and heart disease and if left untreated, it can lead to heart and kidney failure, dementia, and other chronic diseases. On average, one person in Canada dies from heart disease or stroke every seven minutes.

Know your numbers

The most important step you can take to protect yourself from these debilitating and often fatal conditions is to start monitoring your blood pressure regularly. This is not an expensive, time-consuming, or inconvenient habit to develop. There are blood pressure screening kiosks located in Shoppers Drug Marts across the country that are free and easy to use.

Blood pressure is measured with two numbers — a systolic pressure and a diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure occurs when your heart contracts and is the higher of the two numbers whereas diastolic pressure is when your heart relaxes and fills with blood. The higher your systolic or diastolic pressure is, and the longer it stays high, the more damage there is to your blood vessels.

“There is a blood pressure tracker card that you can get at Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies which you can put in the machine when you take your blood pressure and it will record your last ten blood pressure readings,” says Weyland. “This data helps you track your blood pressure and you can share the data the next time you’re at your physician’s office by printing them beforehand.”

How pharmacists can help you

Monitoring your blood pressure in a pharmacy is reassuring as there will always be a pharmacist on staff available to answer questions about your blood pressure or direct you to your family doctor if need be. Pharmacists are excellent resources for your health and many offer one-on-one consultations or medication reviews during which you can discuss possible diet or lifestyle modifications to assist in maintaining a healthy blood pressure.

“If you have a tendency to have high blood pressure or if you have a family history, you can put off taking medication by making sure that you have a healthy diet and active lifestyle,” says Weyland. “By modifying your lifestyle, you can keep your blood pressure lower for longer.”

Monitoring your blood pressure and implementing healthy lifestyle choices is a great way to protect yourself against stroke, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. For more information on how to avoid heart disease and stroke, you can visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada’s website