There are many popular medical myths about high blood pressure. For example, many physicians believe that high blood pressure is an “inevitable consequence of aging;” that the “only viable treatment option for high blood pressure patients is medication”; that high blood pressure patients must take their medications “for the rest of their lives”; and, worst of all, that high blood pressure medications are “safe and effective.”
Recent research shows that lowering your blood pressure below these levels decreases your risk of heart attacks and all-cause mortality. That’s right—lowering your blood pressure has a direct impact on your life expectancy. In fact, a person with a systolic pressure of 135 has double the risk of heart disease as someone with a systolic pressure of 115. Same goes for a diastolic pressure of 85 instead of 75. 10 points might not seem like much, but every blood pressure increase has a big impact on your health.
The kidneys produce renin when they detect low blood pressure. Renin stimulates the production of angiotensin I, a protein which is converted to angiotensin II by angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) in the lungs. Angiotensin II is a powerful constrictor of blood vessels, and constricting blood vessels increases blood pressure. Angiotensin II also causes the secretion of an additional blood pressure elevating hormone in the adrenal glands called aldosterone, which helps the body retain sodium. Aliskiren blocks the effects of renin and angiotensin so that blood pressure does not increase.
Regular visits with your doctor are also key to controlling your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is well-controlled, check with your doctor about how often you need to check it. Your doctor may suggest checking it daily or less often. If you're making any changes in your medications or other treatments, your doctor may recommend you check your blood pressure starting two weeks after treatment changes and a week before your next appointment.
While medication can lower blood pressure, it may cause side effects such as leg cramps, dizziness, and insomnia. The good news is that most people can bring their numbers down naturally without drugs. “Lifestyle changes are an important part of prevention and treatment of high blood pressure,” says Brandie D. Williams, MD, FACC, a cardiologist at Texas Health Stephenville and Texas Health Physicians Group.
Let your doctor know if your treatment isn’t helping your blood pressure. You may have high blood pressure that is independent of an underlying medical condition. This type of high blood pressure is the most common type and is known as essential hypertension. Patients with essential hypertension will likely require lifelong medication to control it.
Note: The fasting and high blood pressure study described in this article was funded in part by a grant from the National Health Association. It was conducted at the Center for Conservative Therapy in Penngrove, California. The results appeared in the article, “Medically Supervised Water-Only Fasting in the Treatment of Hypertension,” published in June 2001 in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics.
Dr. Ogbru received his Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy in 1995. He completed a Pharmacy Practice Residency at the University of Arizona/University Medical Center in 1996. He was a Professor of Pharmacy Practice and a Regional Clerkship Coordinator for the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy from 1996-99.
Some high blood pressure medications can, in fact, lead to weight gain. Common offenders include older beta blockers such as propranolol (Inderal) and atenolol (Tenormin). There could be several reasons for this -- including the fact that the medications can make patients feel tired and thus less likely to exercise. Minoxidil tablets (Loniten) -- used only when other antihypertensive medications have failed -- can also cause weight gain. Weight gain is also listed as a common side effect of doxazosin (Cardura). Diuretics are more likely to cause weight loss.
“The heart works to pump oxygen in the blood to all your tissues and organs,” explains Lara Kovell, M.D., a cardiologist at UMass Memorial Medical Center. “Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood pushing against the blood vessels, or arteries, of the body. If you were able to hold on to one of your arteries, the blood pressure is the force you would feel on your hand.”