Heart researchers want to compare New Brunswick's blood pressure with rest of the world

Heart researchers want to compare New Brunswick's blood pressure with rest of the world

Heart specialists in New Brunswick were taking a reading of the province's collective blood pressure through a free screening being held in Saint John on Thursday.

The clinic, happening until 3 p.m. at Sobey's East Point location, is part of a global effort to raise awareness and collect data about hypertension.

High blood pressure is an asymptomatic disease, said Martin MacKinnon, a nephrologist and hypertension physician at the Saint John Regional Hospital.

He said it's important for people to become familiar with their baseline pressure.

"Identifying hypertension is crucial to be done early, and it's something that can lead to quite bad outcomes like stroke and heart attacks," MacKinnon said Thursday in an interview with Information Morning Saint John.

"We tend to spend more time and interest after such an event happens, but by that time some of the damage is done. There's been more interest in monitoring and preventing complications."

Participants at Thursday's clinic are being given a basic blood pressure reading to record their systolic and diastolic numbers. Similar screening programs are happening around the world. Last year, about 1.2 million people turned out for the May Measurement program.

Keith Brunt, a scientist with the New Brunswick Heart Centre at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick, said there are several research studies happening in Saint John with a particular focus on women and seniors.

A study of people 55 to 85 years old is looking at blood pressure accuracy in older people, "who might be more frail," he said.

Another study is looking at how obesity affects blood pressure, and whether it affects the accuracy of blood pressure cuffs.

And women have been "neglected in a large way" in many cardiovascular clinical trials and studies, Brunt said.

"We don't have strong evidence to provide to general practitioners what they need to know about how to prescribe medications for women, and what different advice, extra advice we need for women," he said.

"We may even need to develop new and different drugs and strategies specific to women."

Comparative readings

Brunt is hoping to have at least 100 measurements taken at this one-day screen in Saint John.

From there, researchers want to compare New Brunswick's blood pressure on a population level against the rest of the world.

"Understanding differences between countries helps us inform more population health-based strategies to understand the potential countries elsewhere in the world doing well, or not doing so well on an international level," said Martin.

"On a more local level, it's important to raise awareness of taking your blood pressure and watching it over time."

Martin said it's good to get a reading done outside of the doctor's office, where so-called "white coat hypertension" can arise because of associated nervousness.

The readings will take about 10 minutes to complete. Data will be anonymously forwarded to the International Society of Hypertension.

High blood pressure is recognized to be the leading risk factor for heart disease, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in Canada, according to a study out of the University of Calgary.

May Measurement Month is a global initiative by hypertension agencies and encourages people to test and, if necessary, treat their blood pressure.