Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of your blood against the blood vessel walls. There are often no signs of high blood pressure. This means that you may have high blood pressure and not know it.

The recommended target for people with diabetes is less than 130/80 mm Hg. The top number is the pressure when your heart contracts and pushes blood out (systolic). The bottom number is the pressure when the heart relaxes between beats (diastolic).

Why is controlling blood pressure important for people with diabetes?

When blood pressure is high, it puts stress on the body. This can cause damage to the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. High blood glucose levels are a risk factor for hypertension (high blood pressure) as it can lead to hardening of the arteries. Compared to people without diabetes, people with diabetes are much more likely to develop heart disease and/or experience a stroke at an earlier age.

If you have diabetes, get your blood pressure checked every time you visit your health-care team.

Am I doing all that I can to control my blood pressure?

  • Do I have my blood pressure checked every time I visit my health-care team?
  • Am I at a healthy weight?
  • Do I follow a healthy diet that includes vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, and is low in sodium and saturated and trans fats?
  • Am I physically active on a regular basis?
  • Am I a non-smoker?
  • Do I manage stress in a healthy way?
  • Do I limit my alcohol intake?
  • Do I take my medication as prescribed?

Strategies to lower blood pressure

Healthy eating

Try these healthy eating tips:

  • Choose vegetables and fruits more often (fresh or frozen without added salt).
  • Choose low-fat (one per cent or skim) dairy products.
  • Choose legumes (dried beans, peas and lentils) more often. Rinse canned beans with water.
  • Choose whole grains such as whole wheat breads, cereal, pasta and brown rice.
  • Eat fish at least twice a week (fresh, frozen or canned without added salt).
  • Choose lean meats and poultry without added salt.
  • Limit processed, smoked and cured foods.
  • Look for unsalted or ‘no added salt’ items (e.g. crackers, nuts).
  • Avoid using salt at the table and in cooking.
  • Avoid seasonings that contain the word ‘salt’ or ‘sodium’, such as garlic salt, celery salt, Kosher salt, sea salt or monosodium glutamate (MSG).
  • Flavour your foods with herbs, spices, fresh garlic, garlic powder, onion powder, lemon or vinegars.
  • Limit frozen convenience foods and fast food restaurant meals.

With time, your taste buds will adjust to the natural flavours of food without added salt.

Talk to a registered dietitian to learn more about healthy eating.

Physical activity

Build physical activity into your day. Regular physical activity can improve blood pressure and heart health.

Check with your health-care team about the exercise routine that is suitable for you. Both aerobic and resistance exercises are recommended for people with diabetes.

Be a non-smoker

Smoking affects blood pressure in two ways: Nicotine in cigarette smoke causes blood vessels to narrow, which increases blood pressure.

Smoking makes blood pressure medications work less effectively. Ask your doctor about local programs and medications that may help you to quit.

Managing stress

To help cope with stress, try physical activity, socializing, laughter, and healthy eating. Avoid unhealthy stress-busters such as smoking, alcohol use, or poor food choices. Help is available if you need it. Remember to make time for yourself!

Managing alcohol intake

Alcohol raises blood pressure by interfering with the blood flow to and from the heart. Drinking alcohol can lead to both high and low blood glucose (sugar)  and possibly high triglycerides. Talk to your doctor to see if alcohol is a choice for you.

Medication

When lifestyle changes are not enough, your doctor may prescribe medication. Most people need two or more drugs to bring down their blood pressure to a healthy level. It is important to take your medications as prescribed. Try to take them at the same time every day.

Treating high blood pressure may require time, patience and care by both you and your doctor. Your doctor might have to try different medications or combinations of medications to see which ones work the best for you with the fewest side effects. It is important to continue taking your medications, even when your blood pressure is at target.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about your medications.

The bottom line

Healthy eating, physical activity, managing weight and stress, and taking your medications as prescribed can all help you to control your blood pressure.