May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month. Sponsored by the CDC, National High Blood Pressure Education Month raises awareness about the impact high blood pressure can have on health.
One of three American adults has high blood pressure, also called hypertension. That’s 67 million people who have to work to keep their blood pressure in check each day. Unfortunately, more than half of people with high blood pressure do not have their condition under control.
May is High Blood Pressure Education Month, and it’s a good time to find out how to “make control your goal.”
Possible Complications of High Blood Pressure
Having the highest score is good in many things, but not with blood pressure—the higher your numbers, the more serious the condition.
You may not have any symptoms of high blood pressure, but it can damage your health in many ways. For instance, it can harden the arteries, decreasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart and brain. This reduced flow can cause—
- A heart attack, which occurs when the blood supply to your heart is blocked and heart muscle cells die from a lack of oxygen.
- A stroke, which can occur when arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain become blocked or burst.
- Chest pain, also called angina.
- Heart failure, which occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to other organs.
How to Control High Blood Pressure
Of the 67 million American adults who have high blood pressure, 16 million know that they have the condition and are getting treatment, but their blood pressure still remains higher than it should be. For these individuals, awareness and treatment are not enough—that’s why CDC is asking patients, families, and health care professionals to “make control the goal.”
If you have high blood pressure, there are steps you can take to get it under control, including—
- Ask your doctor what your blood pressure should be. Set a goal to lower your pressure with your doctor and then discuss how you can reach your goal. Work with your doctor to make sure you meet that goal.
- Take your blood pressure medication as directed. If you are having trouble, ask your doctor what you can do to make it easier. For example, you may want to discuss your medication schedule with your doctor if you are taking multiple drugs at different times of the day. Or you may want to discuss side effects you are feeling, or the cost of your medicine.
- Quit smoking—and if you don’t smoke, don’t start. You can find tips and resources at CDC’s Smoking and Tobacco Web site or Be Tobacco Free Web site.
- Reduce sodium. Most Americans consume too much sodium, and it raises their risk for high blood pressure.
There are other healthy habits, in addition to taking your medication that can help keep your blood pressure under control:
- Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
- Participate in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.
- Eat a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol.
- Manage stress.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink (no more than one drink each day for women and two for men).
If you have a family member who has high blood pressure, you can help by taking many of the steps listed above with them. Go for walks together or cook meals with lower sodium. Make it a family affair!
Common Medications for High Blood Pressure
Many medications known as antihypertensives are available by prescription to lower high blood pressure. There are a variety of classes of HBP medications, and they include a number of different drugs.
The classes of blood pressure medications include:
- Diuretics – Diuretics help the body get rid of excess sodium (salt) and water and help control blood pressure. They are often used in combination with additional prescription therapies.
- Beta Blockers – Beta-blockers reduce the heart rate, the heart’s workload and the heart’s output of blood, which lowers blood pressure.
- ACE Inhibitors – Angiotensin is a chemical that causes the arteries to become narrow, especially in the kidneys but also throughout the body. ACE stands for Angiotensin-converting enzyme. ACE inhibitors help the body produce less angiotensin, which helps the blood vessels relax and open up, which, in turn, lowers blood pressure.
- Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers – These drugs block the effects of angiotensin, a chemical that causes the arteries to become narrow. Angiotensin needs a receptor- like a chemical “slot” to fit into or bind with- in order to constrict the blood vessel. ARBs block the receptors so the angiotensin fails to constrict the blood vessel. This means blood vessels stay open and blood pressure is reduced.
- Calcium Channel Blockers – This drug prevents calcium from entering the smooth muscle cells of the heart and arteries. When calcium enters these cells, it causes a stronger and harder contraction, so by decreasing the calcium, the hearts’ contraction is not as forceful. Calcium channel blockers relax and open up narrowed blood vessels, reduce heart rate and lower blood pressure.
- Alpha Blockers – These drugs reduce the arteries’ resistance, relaxing the muscle tone of the vascular walls.
- Alpha-2 Receptor Agonist – These drugs reduce blood pressure by decreasing the activity of the sympathetic (adrenaline-producing) portion of the involuntary nervous system. Methyldopa is considered a first line antihypertensive during pregnancy because adverse effects are infrequent for the pregnant woman or the developing fetus.
- Central Agonists – Central agonists also help decrease the blood vessels’ ability to tense up or contract. The central agonists follow a different nerve pathway than the alpha and beta-blockers, but accomplish the same goal of blood pressure reduction.
- Peripheral Adrenergic Inhibitors – These medications reduce blood pressure by blocking neurotransmitters in the brain. This blocks the smooth muscles from getting the “message” to constrict. These drugs are rarely used unless other medications don’t help.
- Blood Vessel Dilators, or Vasodilators – Blood vessel dilators, or vasodilators, can cause the muscle in the walls of the blood vessels (especially the arterioles) to relax, allowing the vessel to dilate (widen). This allows blood to flow through better.
You’re Taking Medication for High Blood Pressure – Should You Wear a Medical ID?
For those with high blood pressure, a medical ID helps emergency responders know that your high blood pressure is not a symptom of an acute problem but rather your normal baseline. This means they will pay particular attention to your heart while treating you and they will not be needlessly searching for an immediate cause of your current high blood pressure reading.
Even if your blood pressure is under control with medication, it’s still important to wear a medical ID that specifies the drugs that are being taken regularly. Many of the above-mentioned prescription medications can have serious side effects such as dizziness or heart palpitations, which could cause a first responder to mistakenly think you’re having a heart attack. Additionally, some drugs and supplements can raise blood pressure and/or interfere with the effectiveness of prescription medication used against high blood pressure.
Just remember, every minute counts in an emergency, and knowing your condition and medication makes diagnosis and assessment more accurate and timely.