Do You Really Need Medicine for High Blood Pressure?

Despite these beliefs, it’s a mistake not to treat high blood pressure—the stakes are very high. Some folks with hypertension get headaches, neck pain or chest pain, but most people don’t feel any symptoms even though they have a serious disease. Here’s what else you should know.

High blood pressure can be deadly.

High blood pressure can cause serious health issues, including death. About 70% of people who have a heart attack for the first time and about 80% of people who have a stroke for the first time have existing high blood pressure.

High blood pressure raises your risk for heart disease, stroke and death. When your blood pressure is high, you are three times more likely to die from heart disease and four times more likely to die from stroke. All in all, high blood pressure contributes to 1000 deaths per day in the US.

High blood pressure is “silent.”

High blood pressure is “silent”, meaning that people who have hypertension don’t necessarily feel any symptoms of it. That’s why out of an estimated 73 million Americans who have high blood pressure, about 20% (13 million people) are unaware of it.

Blood pressure medications can help.

Blood pressure medications can help lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke if you have hypertension. In studies on hypertensive patients, reducing systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading) by only 12-13 mmHg lowered the risk for stroke by about 40%, and the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke by about 25%.  

High blood pressure is 130/80 or higher.

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is defined as a blood pressure reading of 130/80 or higher. (Before 2017, the cut-off was 140/90.) Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or less.

Do I need medicine if my blood pressure is borderline?

If the first number in your blood pressure reading is 130-139 mmHg, and the second number in your reading is 80-89 mmHg, you may need medicine.

You can use a stroke and heart disease assessment tool like the one here to find out whether or not you will need medication. If your risk for stroke or heart disease is less than 10%, your doctor may recommend that you only adopt lifestyle changes to treat your high blood pressure and then check in again with them again in three months. However, if your risk is greater than 10%, you will likely need to start on medications and try lifestyle changes at the same time.

Do I need medicine if my blood pressure is above 140/90?

Yes. If your blood pressure is above 140/90, your physician will start you on a blood pressure medication and check in monthly with you until your blood pressure is normal. Which medication you should start with is covered in this blog post.

Here’s how to measure blood pressure correctly at home.

With digital at-home blood pressure readers available at most pharmacies, it’s easy to take your blood pressure by yourself these days. To get an accurate reading, find a quiet room, sit in a chair with your back straight and your legs uncrossed, and support one of your arms with a table or arm rest so it’s at the level of your heart. Before you take your reading, make sure your bladder is empty and you’ve rested for 5-10 minutes.

To take your blood pressure, place the cuff of your blood pressure reader around your upper arm where you can feel your pulse. Take one reading, wait 5 minutes, and then take a second reading. Then, repeat these steps using your other arm. While you’re taking your blood pressure, don’t talk as that can affect your reading.

And here’s a New Year’s gift idea: Omron and Welch Allyn blood pressure cuffs are popular, reliable and affordable. Everyone should have one at home.

Dr O.

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