health · Sat with Nat

Nat learns a little more about the nuances of blood pressure

It’s that time of year for my annual “my high blood pressure journey” post. (Please remember I’m not a health care professional and what follows isn’t advice on what you should do. )

Last month the guidelines around what constitutes high blood pressure were changed in Canada and the US. You can read about it here. It created a mild ripple of panic as folks were surprised to find they suddenly had “high blood pressure”. It certainly gave me pause to think about my own numbers just days before my regular check up.

I showed up to my appointment to discover my family doctor no longer working Wednesdays. The thought of seeing a different doctor filled me with panic. I’ve been having follow ups for many years and am really comfortable with my doctor. Other doctors, well, it’s a mixed bag. I tried deep breathing and relaxing while anxiety washed over me.

I met with the new doctor, a lovely human who stared at my stomach while we talked. I had shared that my numbers were creeping up over the years and I was worried. She offered that once hypertension sets in it slowly worsens over time as we age. She talked about how lifestyle changes were very important and that pills only did so much. I smiled and waited for her to go on. I couldn’t muster the courage to confront her assumption that I hadn’t already made those lifestyle changes, initially 20 years ago and really honed in on things about 5 years ago.

She asked how my at home monitoring was going. I had never seriously tracked my blood pressure at home despite having been gifted a monitor.

She offered that I didn’t need to come in unless my at home blood pressure was regularly over 130/90 as my prescription could be renewed via fax.

I walked out confused but committed to tracking my blood pressure at different times at home.

I was shocked to see a few trends. After my morning coffee my blood pressure spikes by 20 points. By mid afternoon I’m regularly sitting at 105/60. Way lower than the reading at the doctor’s office. It was such a shock I had my partner measure his to make sure the monitor was working. I tried different sizes of cuffs. All good.

I keep thinking about those “lifestyle factors” that are within my control. The big ones most folks are familiar with: be a non-smoker, move your body, avoid high amounts of alcohol, eat a healthy diet. Just this week a CNN article boasted we can all extend our longevity by 10 years doing those things and maintaining a healthy BMI.

I’ve got 4/5 and, as the Meatloaf song goes, that ain’t bad. I have decided that the long view of my health and wellness are the biggest assets for me. I look for ways to make it easy to make healthy choices and get movement in my day and that seems to be working out damn fine.

Four smiling humans gather in for a sidewalk selfie on a warm sunny day

Me and my favourite humans walking from home to see a movie downtown.

7 thoughts on “Nat learns a little more about the nuances of blood pressure

  1. Great post. I’m thinking about blood pressure these days since I had my first high reading ever in the dr’s office the other day. I’ve had low blood pressure my whole life. Between menopause and thyroid cancer, it feels like everything is out of whack these days.

  2. In the link about the new guidelines, they say that you should use an auto-inflating cuff that goes on the upper arm…but I wonder where a significantly fat person could find one (and even if they are accurate since most of the automatic monitors aren’t calibrated properly for large arms!).

    1. Sometimes medical supply shops (often affiliated with a pharmacy brand name) carry a variety of cuff sizes. I have large upper arms, around 20”, and it can be tricky to get the right fit.

  3. Thanks for this, Natalie – and for drawing our attention to the new guidelines. I’d be REALLY curious to hear what Catherine Womack thinks of the data that has been drawn on here, and the robustness of the case for this change: after all, it’s clear that this shift will result in millions more prescriptions for BP drugs. In short: I’m all for realistic health markers that help humans to live their best lives, but I’m hugely skeptical about the role Pharma interests may have played in this change.

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