Effective high blood pressure treatment usually involves medication and heart-healthy lifestyle changes, such as a low sodium diet and regular exercise.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the inner lining of your arteries. When that force is significantly higher, putting your health at risk, it’s called high blood pressure or hypertension.
Hypertension management often requires taking one or more blood pressure-lowering medications (antihypertensives) daily and making lifestyle modifications that support optimal cardiovascular health.
There is no permanent “cure” for hypertension because the steps to control it have to be done for the rest of your life. Once you stop managing your condition, your high blood pressure will likely return.
To get your blood pressure into a healthy range and keep it there, work with your healthcare team to map out a treatment plan and learn how to monitor your blood pressure at home.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and divided into systolic and diastolic pressures.
Systolic (the top number on your blood pressure reading) is the pressure inside your arteries when your heart contracts and pumps blood out to the body. The diastolic pressure (bottom number) is the pressure in the arteries when your heart rests between beats.
Those who aren’t managing their hypertension run the risk of several severe health problems associated with high blood pressure, including:
Managing chronic hypertension requires a multifaceted approach that should begin by working with your healthcare team. There are other essential steps you can take to help manage your hypertension and keep it at a healthy level.
Here are tips to help you manage your hypertension and improve your health:
You can track any changes in your blood pressure by seeing your doctor regularly. Your doctor can then adjust your medication regimen by adding a medication (or removing one if appropriate) or changing the dosage.
Your doctor can also make other recommendations regarding diet, exercise, and treating conditions that might affect your blood pressure, such as diabetes or kidney disease.
The increased use of telehealth or “connected health” services – communicating via video chat and other internet-based means – in recent years also may be helpful in managing hypertension.
Many of the lifestyle behaviors that can help move your blood pressure into a healthy range are the same that may help you prevent developing hypertension.
Some of the most essential steps include:
- Eat a balanced heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
- Take part in physical activity of at least 150 minutes a week, doing moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, swimming, or singles tennis.
- Limit alcohol consumption to no more than one drink daily for women and two for men.
- Maintain a moderate weight. If you need to lose weight, talk with your doctor about how to do so safely and in a sustainable, long-term way.
- Manage stress.
- Quit smoking if you smoke because smoking can damage the lining of the arteries.
- Reduce sodium intake by opting for low sodium items at the grocery store and restaurants and using other types of seasoning instead of salt when cooking.
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to get your blood pressure to a healthy level, your doctor may prescribe any of several types of antihypertensive medications. Each type of medication works a little differently to reduce your blood pressure.
Your doctor will likely start you off with one medication, though you may need more than one to get your numbers down.
Some of the more common antihypertensives include:
- angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which help the body make less angiotensin, a protein that raises blood pressure by causing the arteries to constrict
- angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), which counteract the effects of angiotensin
- beta-blockers, which reduce the heart’s workload and its output of blood, easing pressure in the arteries
- calcium channel blockers, which keep calcium from entering the heart and arteries, allowing them to open up and relax
- diuretics, a common first-line treatment that reduces fluid levels in the body, which also brings down blood pressure
- vasodilators, usually prescribed when systolic pressure is very high (180 mm Hg) or in other emergencies
Having your blood pressure checked when you see your doctor is helpful, but people with hypertension should consider home blood pressure monitoring. Home monitoring allows you to track your blood pressure in between visits.
The key is to use a home monitor correctly and keep track of changes in your blood pressure. Talk with your healthcare team for recommendations on the type of machine (an arm cuff is preferable to a wrist device) and how to measure your blood pressure accurately. Consider bringing your monitor to your doctor’s office for a quick lesson.
Even though hypertension can’t be cured with a short-term round of medications or a procedure, it’s usually a manageable condition.
The key is being willing to take medications daily and committing to a lifetime of heart-healthy behaviors. It’s also essential to understand that as you age and your health changes, you may need to adjust your medication regimen and lifestyle accordingly.
High blood pressure usually causes no symptoms but can result in adverse effects. If you receive a high blood pressure diagnosis, follow your healthcare team’s advice to lower your risks of hypertension-related complications.