Blood Pressure Meds Are Not a Cure for High Blood Pressure
My partner recently shared a conversation he had with a close friend.
Joe: “How are you doing with your high blood pressure?"Mike: “I don’t have high blood pressure.”Joe: “Oh! You got off your high blood pressure medications and are doing OK?”Mike: “No, I still take them, and now I don’t have high blood pressure.”
Does this conversations sound familiar? Have you had a similar one yourself? It is a common misconception that blood pressure medication is a cure for high blood pressure. It’s not.
Underlying Causes of High Blood Pressure Are Not Erased By Medication
The truth is, even if you take medication, you still have a chronic medical condition that needs to be tracked and managed. The fact that you are on medication is evidence of this. If everything were ok, you would not need the pills.Since you do need them, it is essential to continue to track and manage the stress of hypertension that your body is undergoing. Even if it seems “under control” through the use of medications, the condition is still a high health risk and cannot be ignored.
Tracking and Managing Your Blood Pressure
Daily monitoring of your blood pressure is one of the most effective ways to track and manage your high blood pressure. This has been shown to lower your blood pressure naturally, by 9 points or more.Properly monitoring your blood pressure each day will provide essential feedback for yourself as you implement changes in your diet and lifestyle. It will also allow your doctor to better track your progress and reactions to medications. You can see how you are doing, and your doctor can provide the best care possible – as a team. This is an essential step in taking control of your health and reducing heart health risks.To track your blood pressure, follow this pain-free process:
- Choose a good blood pressure measuring device.
- Check your blood pressure twice daily.
- Track your results. This task is made easy with a phone app (iOS, Android).
- Share your results with your physician.
What if my tracking shows I no longer need my blood pressure medication?
As you carefully monitor your blood pressure and faithfully take your medications, your blood pressure should drop to a “healthy” level. Two common myths must be debunked at this point:
Myth #1: You can stop taking your blood pressure medication when your BP is "healthy".
Myth #2: You have been cured when meds lower your BP to "normal".
The belief that once you reach a healthy blood pressure range your medication can be stopped is a dangerous myth. It is based on the second myth, that you have been cured. Neither is close to the truth.Remember, you must make other changes to correct or reverse the damage your heart and arteries are undergoing from hypertension. Don’t let medication lull you into a false sense of security that your body is now healthy. This misconception often gets us in trouble. Instead of making the necessary changes to increase heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease, we simply rely on the medication to keep us “normal.”The truth is, the medication has brought your blood pressure to a normal level, but it has not corrected it permanently. It is simply controlling the symptoms of high blood pressure. If other changes do not take place to affect your heart health, the condition will still be present. If the medication is stopped, your blood pressure will once again rise to unhealthy levels and the risk for related health problems will rise.
What if I’ve made heart-healthy changes on top of taking meds?
If you make diet and lifestyle that lower your blood pressure, you may be able to reduce or stop medications. For example, if you are carrying excess body weight and have high blood pressure, losing 5-10% can make a vast difference in your blood pressure numbers. You may be able to reduce the medication and eventually cease taking it altogether as you lose the weight that was causing your high blood pressure - with a doctor’s supervision.Similarly, if you increase the percentage of fiber from fruits and vegetables in your diet, you may have a big impact on your heart health.It is important to consult with your physician in these cases. While you may be healthier in some respects, this does not guarantee your high blood pressure is gone. Never stop taking medications simply because your readings are normal. Continue to track your blood pressure through daily monitoring and check in with your physician to see about trying to reduce it.
Is blood pressure medication the best form of treatment?
What most of us don’t realize is that the purpose of blood pressure medications is actually to stop heart attacks, strokes, and other heart risks, rather than simply reduce high blood pressure. With this in mind, it can be argued that one should only use medications if it truly reduces the risk of these diseases.
Does it?It depends on the individual. Those with mild high blood pressure and low cardiovascular risk benefit from medications. However, those with low overall cardiovascular risk may not benefit from this treatment. If medication only reduce a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years by 2%, it may not be the right choice for them.The ineffectiveness of a one-size-fits-all treatment approach is partly due to the fact that blood pressure medications don’t actually remove the underlying problem. For example, high blood pressure contributes to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the blood vessels. The medication does not remove the plaque lining your vessels. It simply controls the symptoms of this condition. (That’s where fiber, veges, stress reduction and activity come to the rescue!)Because of this, researchers recommend that basing treatment on your overall cardiovascular disease risk is a more beneficial model of care. Rather than focusing solely on medications to simply get your blood pressure below 140/80 mmHg, your overall health should be considered. If your doctor prescribes medicines as a part of your treatment plan, you still want to establish healthy lifestyle habits.
How To Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease (and maybe even get off your medication)
If your goal is to no longer need blood pressure medication, there are many steps you can take. The important thing to remember is the ultimate goal should be overall heart health. Reducing your risk for heart disease is what will make the difference. You will lower your risk for heart attack and stroke. You will also improve your quality of life.
As you take these steps to increase your heart health, you may reach a point where you are able to stop managing the symptoms of being sick using medications and instead manage your blood pressure through living well and enhancing your quality of life through diet, exercise and lifestyle.The following are effective methods for lowering blood pressure that may reduce or eliminate your need for medications:
- Manage your waist size
- Reduce salt and sodium in your diet
- Increase potassium intake (try bananas, spinach, avocados, quinoa, sweet potatoes, etc.)
- Restrict or eliminate smoking (or don't start)
- Moderate alcohol consumption
- Moderate caffeine consumption
- Increase fiber intake (veggies, nuts, whole grains)
- Increase percent of fruits and vegetables at every meal
- Be physically active
- Learn to cope with stress
- Self-monitor and track blood pressure
Choosing healthy foods can be especially effective in managing your blood pressure and keeping your heart healthy. As you make these changes, it is important to continue to track your blood pressure (iOS, Android). This will help reduce your blood pressure and assist you and your doctor in making the best choices for your care.
- Medication can help control blood pressure, but it will not cure it, even if your blood pressure readings appear normal.
- Do not stop taking medications if you reach “normal.”
- When taking medication, it remains important to track and manage your blood pressure.
- Healthy lifestyle changes and tracking are effective ways to manage your blood pressure, reduce heart risk and maybe even reduce medication.
Hello Heart does not provide medical advice. You should always consult with your doctor about your individual care.
1. Gazit T, Gutman M, Beatty AL. Assessment of Hypertension Control Among Adults Participating in a Mobile Technology Blood Pressure Self-management Program. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(10):e2127008, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.27008. Accessed October 19, 2022. (Some study authors are employed by Hello Heart. Because of the observational nature of the study, causal conclusions cannot be made. See additional important study limitations in the publication. This study showed that 108 participants with baseline blood pressure over 140/90 who had been enrolled in the program for 3 years and had application activity during weeks 148-163 were able to reduce their blood pressure by 21 mmHg using the Hello Heart program.) (2) Livongo Health, Inc. Form S-1 Registration Statement. https:/www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1639225/000119312519185159/d731249ds1.htm. Published June 28, 2019. Accessed October 19, 2022. (In a pilot study that lasted six weeks, individuals starting with a blood pressure of greater than 140/90 mmHg, on average, had a 10 mmHG reduction.) NOTE: This comparison is not based on a head-to-head study, and the difference in results may be due in part to different study protocols.
2. Validation Institute. 2021 Validation Report (Valid Through October 2022). https://validationinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Hello_Heart-Savings-2021- Final.pdf. Published October 2021. Accessed October 19, 2022. (This analysis was commissioned by Hello Heart, which provided a summary report of self-fundedemployer client medical claims data for 203 Hello Heart users and 200 non-users from 2017-2020. Findings have not been subjected to peer review.)