High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer.” You may have high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) with no discernible symptoms, but it can eventually lead to life-threatening complications. In fact, nearly one in six people with high blood pressure aren’t even aware they have it. There is no cure for HBP, but it can be managed by making better lifestyle choices, and taking medication. Choosing the medication that works best for you can be tough. Most people don’t know they have options, so they don’t educate themselves or speak up when their doctors recommend different drugs.
If you are still in the early stages of high blood pressure—a condition called prehypertension—then you should make healthy changes whenever and wherever you can. This helps lower your blood pressure naturally without the need for medication. Good habits include eating a healthy diet packed with fruits and vegetables while also being low on sodium. Regular exercise is also helpful for people who’ve been diagnosed with prehypertension.
Dieting and exercise are also vital for people with full-blown hypertension. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise almost every day. If you have to break this up into three 10-minute sessions, do it—whatever it takes to stay fit and active. Limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men up to 65 (over 65, limit to one drink per day). Other ways to reduce your high blood pressure include giving up smoking and managing stress levels in your life.
If your blood pressure remains high even after making significant lifestyle changes, your doctor will probably write you a prescription for one or more drugs designed to keep your blood pressure within normal ranges. For example, diuretics (water pills) remove excess water and sodium that collects in your body. With less fluid flowing through your bloodstream, the pressure on your blood vessel walls is reduced. The three types of diuretics are loop, thiazide and potassium-sparing. Most doctors prescribe thiazide diuretics first to treat high blood pressure and heart problems related to high blood pressure. If diuretics don’t do the job, other drugs are added until the right combination works for you.
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are designed to relax blood vessels by blocking the production of the hormone angiotensin. Angiotensin is a hormone that narrows blood vessels, thus contributing to high blood pressure. Common ACE inhibitors go by the names of ramipril (Altace), enalapril (Vasotec) and lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril). Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) also relax blood vessels, but only block the action of angiotensin, without preventing the hormone from being produced. ARBs go by valsartan (Diovan), losartan (Cozaar) and many other brand and product names.
Calcium channel blockers keep calcium from getting into your heart and blood vessels. The most common calcium blockers are nifedipine (Adalat CC, Afeditab CR), amlodipine (Norvasc) and diltiazem (Cardizem, Tiazac). Beta blockers block the impact of the hormone epinephrine, otherwise known as adrenaline. This lets your heart beat slower and less forcibly. Frequently prescribed beta blockers include metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL). another medication type, known as renin inhibitors, helps protect your kidneys. Renin, produced by your kidneys, starts a bad chain of actions that lead to increasing your blood pressure. Aliskiren (Tekturna) slows the body’s renin production to keep your blood pressure under control.