Drugs to Lower High Blood Pressure
The dangers of high blood pressure (hypertension) have been extremely well publicized over the past decade. It’s the dreaded silent killer, with no symptoms until you’ve got CHF, drop dead of a heart attack, or suffer a stroke. According to Pharmacy Times, drugs to treat high blood pressure made up two of the four most prescribed drugs of 2006, with the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium) at number one.
One could hardly call high blood pressure “silent” these days, because drug companies have spent millions if not billions over the past few decades to make sure everyone knows about it and to make it so scary that you’ll take their hypertension drugs at the first sign of a higher-than-normal blood pressure reading. Anytime you walk into a physician’s office, clinic, or hospital of any kind, the first thing they do is take your blood pressure.
While it’s very true that chronically high blood pressure can be dangerous and should be treated aggressively, millions of North Americans with moderately high blood pressure are unnecessarily bullied by physicians into taking hypertension drugs without first making the diet and lifestyle changes that will lower almost all high blood pressure. This is a perfect example of how much quicker and easier it is to write a prescription for a drug that will make the numbers look better, without getting involved with the complexities of helping a person make lifestyle changes.
Hypertension drugs usually lower high blood pressure, but they have significant side effects and they treat the symptom, not the underlying cause. When you take them, the symptom of high blood pressure is suppressed and your numbers look good for your insurance company, but your disease continues to progress. It’s important for you to be aware that unless you’re one of the few people who have high blood pressure caused purely by genetics or an illness such as kidney disease, your high blood pressure is caused by diet and lifestyle choices.
If you’re already on blood-pressure-lowering drugs, do not go off them suddenly. If you want to work on improving your lifestyle to reduce your blood pressure, work with an experienced health care professional to lower your blood pressure naturally while you wean yourself off the drugs.
Blood Pressure Facts
Your blood pressure rises above normal when too much fluid is being pumped through the blood vessels or the blood vessels constrict, putting greater pressure on your heart and blood vessels. It can also be caused when the arteries lose their elasticity. Consider the plumbing in a house: When water pressure is high, water comes out of the faucet with great force. When water pressure is low, it may only trickle out of the faucet.
Blood pressure readings show two numbers: the systolic pressure, which is the greatest amount of pressure exerted when the heart pumps or contracts, and the diastolic pressure, which is the lowest amount of pressure when the heart is in between beats, or relaxed. A “normal” blood pressure reading for a middle-aged adult is 130 (systolic) over 85 (diastolic), also shown as 130/85 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury, under pressure). A high diastolic blood pressure is more indicative of heart trouble in an older adult than a high systolic blood pressure.
Normal blood pressure increases as we age. As our blood vessels get saggier and baggier along with the rest of the body, we need increased blood pressure to circulate our blood effectively. Research shows that in the elderly it may be dangerous to bring the systolic blood pressure below 140 mm Hg. Most research shows that if you’re over the age of 60, your systolic blood pressure may safely be as high as 160 mm Hg and your diastolic as high as 100 mm Hg.
Should you worry if your blood pressure varies some from these numbers? If you’re overweight, stressed out, smoking, eating poorly, drinking too much alcohol or coffee, not exercising, or have heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes, then yes, because these are the risk factors for high blood pressure, and you need to get to work changing them—now. If you are following the Six Core Principles for Optimal Health and don’t have any of the preceding risk factors or a family history of very high blood pressure, be aware that your blood pressure is high and consider treating it naturally to avoid the risks of hypertensive drugs. If you do need to use a hypertensive drug, ask your doctor to try a diuretic first, for reasons you can read about in detail later.
It’s irresponsible for a physician to prescribe a blood pressure drug based on one reading. Your arteries are muscular and flexible, designed to change blood pressure constantly in response to the needs of your body. Blood pressure readings taken in a physician’s office are usually higher than normal, and those taken in a drugstore are inaccurate as much as 60 percent of the time. If your physician feels your hypertension is severe enough to warrant taking drugs, you should be monitoring your blood pressure at home.
Your physician is in a very tough position when it comes to treating your high blood pressure. If your blood pressure numbers don’t fit into the charts and your physician doesn’t prescribe the drugs, he or she can be penalized by an insurance company and is vulnerable to malpractice suits.
How do we dare challenge blood-pressure-drug-prescribing habits? Numerous studies, including the famous Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial in the United States and the large Australian Medical Research Council Trial, have shown that people with mild to moderate high blood pressure who don’t take prescription drugs to lower their blood pressure do better than those who do take drugs. At a recent American Heart Association meeting, it was reported that without treatment 1 percent of people with high blood pressure have a heart attack, but with treatment with a calcium channel blocker 1.6 percent have a heart attack. That’s a 60 percent increase.
Unless you’re under the age of 60 and your blood pressure is “severe” (e.g., above 180/110), there is little evidence that blood-pressure-lowering drugs (also called antihypertensives) actually reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, or even the risk of dying. If you’re in your seventies or older, multiple studies have shown that blood pressure drugs can do more harm than good. The exception to this is the Hypertension in the Very Elderly Trial (HYVET) study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008, which compared elderly patients taking either the diuretic indapamide alone or with an ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitor to patients taking a placebo. They found a significantly lower risk of fatal strokes, heart failure, and overall death rate in the treatment group. One reason this research may contradict similar studies is that it primarily used a diuretic, a type of hypertensive drug that has repeatedly been shown to be safer than others, such as beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors. Those who did take the ACE inhibitor in addition to the diuretic did so to reach a target blood pressure number of 150/80 mm Hg. One study showed that elderly patients on antihypertensive drugs whose systolic blood pressure dropped below 140 mm Hg had a significantly higher risk of dying. Another factor in this study is that patients were seen every three months and their medication adjusted at least that often if necessary. This rarely occurs in real life. One of the biggest dangers of antihypertensives in the elderly is that blood pressure drops too low; yet most doctor don’t seem aware of this and tend to dismiss complaints of side effects as symptoms of aging.
Nearly all of the studies showing that antihypertensives do more harm than good were done with a placebo, meaning the group that did better did nothing to improve their blood pressure. Now imagine how bad the antihypertensives would look if they were measured against natural methods of lowering blood pressure, such as weight loss, exercise, diet, and stress reduction!
Drugs That Can Raise Your Blood Pressure
NSAIDs (aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen)
Bronchodilators such as epinephrine, albuterol, and ephedrine
Corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone)
Bisphosphonates (e.g., Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva)
Nasal decongestants (e.g., phenylpropanolamine)
The migraine drug sumatriptan (Imitrex)
The benzodiazepine antianxiety drugs (e.g., Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin)
Many of the antidepressants, but especially venlafaxine (Effexor) and the MAOIs (Nardil, Parnate)
Prescription Alternatives: Hundreds of Free, Natural, Prescription-Free Remedies to Restore & Maintain Your Health, by Earl L. Mindell, R.Ph, Ph. D, & Virginia Hopkins, M.A. Published by McGraw-Hill.