DIAGNOSED WITH HYPERTENSION (HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE)- WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Diagnosed with High Blood Pressure
Do you have high blood pressure? Join the crowd. According to the Center for Disease Control, high blood pressure effects nearly 1 in 3 U.S. adults. It is about equally divided between men and women, although we men tend to get it sooner.
I am a pharmacist. I also have high blood pressure. This article is written from the perspective of a pharmacist and a patient. This article is not intended to be a comprehensive study on the causes and treatment of high blood pressure. Volumes can be (and have been!) written on this (for an extensive 104 page treatment of the subject by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Association, click here) . My goal is to address the basic questions and general information that a newly diagnosed patient with high blood pressure should know.
With that perspective I would like to approach the following 3 questions in this article:
- What is high blood pressure and why do I have it?
- Why do I have to take medication to treat my high blood pressure?
- What should I do to manage my high blood pressure?
What is High Blood Pressure and Why Do I Have It?
High blood pressure, also sometimes called "hypertension," is a condition in which the pressure within your arteries (the blood vessels that are mostly involved in carrying oxygenated blood away from the heart) increases. More pressure in the arteries means more work for the heart.
Imagine trying to blow water out of a garden hose. Now imagine trying to do it while someone squeezes the hose. That's high blood pressure. A blood pressure measurement consists of 2 numbers (referred to as your systolic and diastolic pressure). A normal reading in around 120/80. When the top number routinely gets above 140 or the bottom number above 90, we usually begin to get concerned and make efforts to bring it down (sometimes with medication).
Why do you have high blood pressure? First, remember that a single high reading does not necessarily mean you have high blood pressure. Many things could cause a temporary and unusual rise in blood pressure. Secondly, if your blood pressure is routinely high, there could be a lot of reason. Certain disease or other conditions may have caused your blood pressure to rise. But most commonly high blood pressure is simply a genetic condition which cannot be "cured" but can definitely be treated and controlled.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic say this:
"High blood pressure typically develops over many years, and it affects nearly everyone eventually. Fortunately, high blood pressure can be easily detected. And once you know you have high blood pressure, you can work with your doctor to control it. "
Why Do I Have To Take Medication?
Most likely if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, the next person you are likely to see is me, the pharmacist.
QUESTION: But why? Aren't there some other ways to treat high blood pressure? Do you I have to take these pills?
ANSWER: Although changes in lifestyle (like getting more exercise) and losing weight (sometimes) and reducing the salt in our diet (maybe) could produce a drop in blood pressure, often these measures (though valuable) are not sufficient. Lowering your blood pressure back down to normal levels is critical. High blood pressure has been called the "silent killer." It significantly contributes to heart disease, which is still the most common cause of death. You may feel fine, but you need to take your medicine as prescribed.
QUESTION: What about the DASH diet? Won't that work?
ANSWER: DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It includes eating more fruits and vegetables and fish and chicken and less saturated fats, red meats and sweets. This is a healthy diet and has been successful for some people. You may be able to work with your doctor about trying this approach.
QUESTION: Can't I just take a vitamin or herb, rather than a prescription drug?
ANSWER: Some people have found supplements like garlic or Hawthorn to help lower blood pressure. However, for many people, these supplements will simply not be strong enough to lower your blood pressure to a normal reading. Lowering your blood pressure a "little" will not help reduce your risk for heart disease or stroke, if your average reading is still regularly above 140/90.
How to Manage My High Blood Pressure
So what should you do? The following advice is not intended to replace the advice of your personal physician. These are general suggestions from a pharmacist.
First, if you are prescribed a medication for your blood pressure...TAKE it. This may be an entirely new experience for you. Read the material that comes with your medicine, it is important. For example, if you are taking hydrochlorothiazide, you will want to take this in the morning and also try to get a little extra potassium in your diet (orange juice or bananas are good choices). Be sure to refill it regularly.
Note: If your medication is too expensive, talk with your doctor about this (rather than just not taking it at all). Your doctor will likely be able to find something less expensive for you to take.
Second, check your blood pressure yourself. Many pharmacies have a free blood pressure meter you can use. But the best advice is to purchase a digital blood pressure monitor for your home. Take your pressure daily for the first few weeks, and then maybe once or twice a week once your readings are consistently normal again. Write these readings down, along with the date and time of each reading. Bring this journal of blood pressure readings to every appointment with your doctor. If your readings are regularly still too high, contact your physician.
Note: Most digital blood pressure meters sold in U.S. pharmacies are accurate and reliable. You don't need to buy the most expensive one to get good results. I suggest buying one that will both plug into a wall and also run on batteries if necessary. I also recommend the type that have a cuff that goes around the arm, rather than the wrist (or even finger). I bought one at Walmart made by Relion for about $35.00. It works great.
Third, if you have allowed your weight to get too high and/or your exercise routine is not consistent (30-60 minutes 3-4 times weekly) then work on these things. Take it slow and do not expect overnight changes. These healthy changes will further help reduce your risk for heart disease.
QUESTIONS? Do you have questions about your high blood pressure or medication? Feel free to ask them, or to share your experience managing your high blood pressure in the comments section below.