High Blood Pressure
Treating High Blood Pressure
A Lifelong Focus
If you have high blood pressure, you will need to treat it and control it for life. This means making lifestyle changes, and, in some cases, taking prescribed medicines, and getting ongoing medical care.
In most cases, your goal is probably to keep your blood pressure below 140/90 mmHg (130/80 if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease). Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Ask your doctor what your blood pressure goal should be.
Treatment can help control blood pressure, but it will not cure high blood pressure, even if your blood pressure readings appear normal. If you stop treatment, your blood pressure and risk for related health problems will rise. For a healthy future, follow your treatment plan closely. Work with your health care team for lifelong blood pressure control.
Healthier Habits Can Help
Some people can prevent or control high blood pressure with these healthy lifestyle habits.
- Follow a healthy eating plan that includes fruits, vegetables, fat-free and low-fat milk products, whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts. See how the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) can help with blood pressure control.
- Cut down on salt and sodium in the diet. Try not to eat more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, about 2/3 teaspoon of salt. See tips to reduce sodium in your diet.
- Lose weight if overweight or obese and stay at a healthy weight. Blood pressure rises as body weight increases, and losing even 10 pounds can lower blood pressure. Body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference are measures used to determine if someone is overweight or obese. See the BMI calculator to determine your body mass index.
- Be physically active for at least 2 and one-half hours a week. Regular physical activity is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent or control high blood pressure. It also helps reduce your risk of heart disease. Check out Exercises to Try for older adults, or visit Go4Life®, the exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging.
- Limit alcohol intake. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. If you drink and would like to cut back, watch How Can I Cut Back on My Drinking?
- Quit smoking or don't start. Smoking can damage your blood vessels and raise your risk for high blood pressure. Smoking also can worsen health problems related to high blood pressure.To get help quitting, call 1(800) QUIT-NOW or check out Quitting Smoking for Older Adults
- Learn to cope with stress. Learning how to manage stress, relax, and cope with problems can improve your emotional and physical health. Learn about relaxation techniques that may relieve tension.
If you combine healthy lifestyle habits, you can achieve even better results than taking single steps.
Keep Up Your Healthy Habits
Although some people can control their high blood pressure with lifestyle changes alone, many people can't. Keep in mind that the main goal is blood pressure control. If your doctor prescribes medicines as a part of your treatment plan, keep up your healthy lifestyle habits. They will help you better control your blood pressure.
Common Blood Pressure Medications
Blood pressure medicines work in different ways to lower blood pressure. Some drugs lower blood pressure by removing extra fluid and salt from your body. Others affect blood pressure by slowing down the heartbeat, or by relaxing and widening blood vessels. Often, two or more drugs work better than one.
Here are the types of medicines used to treat high blood pressure.
- Diuretics are sometimes called "water pills." They work by helping your kidneys flush excess water and salt from your body. This reduces the amount of fluid in your blood, and your blood pressure goes down. There are different types of diuretics. They are often given with other high blood pressure medicines and may be combined with another medicine in one pill.
- Beta blockers cause your heart to beat more slowly and with less force. Your heart pumps less blood through the blood vessels, and your blood pressure goes down.
- Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors keep your body from making a hormone called angiotensin II, which normally causes blood vessels to narrow. ACE inhibitors prevent this narrowing so your blood pressure goes down.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBS) are blood pressure drugs that protect your blood vessels from angiotensin II. They make the blood vessels relax and become wider, and your blood pressure goes down.
- Calcium channel blockers (CCBs) keep calcium from entering the muscle cells of your heart and blood vessels. This causes blood vessels to relax, and your blood pressure goes down.
- Vasodilators open blood vessels by directly relaxing the muscle in the vessel walls, causing blood pressure to go down.
- Alpha blockers reduce nerve impulses that tighten blood vessels, allowing blood to pass more easily and causing blood pressure to go down.
- Alpha-beta blockers reduce nerve impulses to blood vessels the same way alpha blockers do, but they also slow the heartbeat, as beta blockers do. As a result, blood pressure goes down.
- Nervous system inhibitors relax blood vessels by controlling nerve impulses from the brain. This causes blood vessels to become wider and blood pressure to go down.
After You Start Medication
Check and record your blood pressure often to see if the medicine is working for you. If your blood pressure continues to measure 140/90 mmHg or higher (130/80 or higher if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease) after you start taking medicine, your doctor may need to add a second drug or try you on different medicines until you find one that helps you reach your goal.
Don’t stop taking your medicine if your blood pressure is normal. That means the medicine is working.
Be sure to talk with your doctor or health care provider about side effects from your medications, and don't make any changes to your medications without talking with your doctor first.
Remembering to Take Your Medications
It is important that you take your blood pressure medication the same time each day. There are a few tips to make this easier to remember.
- Put “sticky” notes in visible places to remind yourself to take your high blood pressure drugs. You can put notes on the refrigerator, on the bathroom mirror, or on the front door.
- Place your drugs in a weekly pillbox, available at most pharmacies.
- Try to link taking your medication with something else that you do regularly, like brushing your teeth.
- Keep your high blood pressure drugs on the nightstand next to your side of the bed.
- Try keeping a chart or calendar to write down when you take your drugs. Keep this calendar posted so you can quickly see if you've taken your drugs. Use colored pens to help you keep track of more than one type of medication.
- If you have a smartphone, find out about texting services and applications (apps) that can send reminders.
- Establish a buddy system with a friend who also is on daily medication and arrange to call each other every day with a reminder to "take your medicine."
- Ask one or more of your children or grandchildren to call you every day with a quick reminder. It's a great way to stay in touch and little ones love to help the grown-ups.
- If you have a personal computer, program a start-up reminder to take your high blood pressure drugs or sign up with one of the free services that will send you reminder e-mail every day.
- Remember to refill your prescription. Each time you pick up a refill, make a note on your calendar to order and pick up the next refill 1 week before the medication is due to run out.