High Blood Pressure: A Highly Controllable Risk Factor That We Fail to Control

(Huff Post – Glenn D. Braunstein, M.D.) While a 140/90 blood pressure reading now would put you into a regimen of medical care, if your 75-year-old great-grandfather’s numbers were 180/110, no doctor would have blinked an eye throughout the 1950s. A mere 50 years ago, physicians described hypertension, or high blood pressure, with words like “essential” or “benign.” That’s because the thinking back then was that rising blood pressure was a normal — even necessary — part of aging. That was before the Framingham Heart Study published groundbreaking research in 1959 showing that people with elevated blood pressure had more heart attacks and coronary disease than those with normal blood pressure. Far from protecting elderly folks by forcing more blood through aging, stiff arteries to vital organs, as the old theory went, high blood pressure silently ravaged internal organs.

Finally, science showed that something had to be done to control the first proven risk factor associated with the nation’s epidemic of heart disease, and researchers set about looking for solutions. In the past half century, pharmaceutical discoveries have come up with dozens of medications to help people keep their blood pressure under control. The arsenal of treatments includes diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin antagonists, calcium channel blockers, alpha-blockers, alpha-beta blockers, nervous system inhibitors and vasodilators. If one doesn’t work alone, often two or more in combination will do the trick. Protecting your heart, brain, kidneys and other organs from the destruction of high blood pressure is an area of medicine with dozens of individualized treatment options.

We’ve also learned that losing weight, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grains and low in salt, sugar and saturated fats, exercising daily and not smoking goes a long way in helping to control blood pressure. But we all know how difficult those lifestyle changes are to make and to stick with, and medications can help you stay safer even as you work on lifestyle changes. Working closely with your doctor will help you find what’s right for you to get your blood pressure down and keep it down.


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