Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: How did my blood pressure suddenly become normal?

Q. After being diagnosed with high blood pressure several years ago, I started taking diltiazem and Atacand. The results were good, giving me an average blood pressure of 110/65. I recently developed gastroenteritis and aspiration pneumonia. While I was in the hospital, my blood pressure got so low I was told to stop taking these medications. I have been off them since, and my blood pressure has remained normal, averaging 105/65. How can this be? Will high blood pressure return?

A. Congratulations on getting your blood pressure under such great control — however you managed to do it! It is unlikely that the bout of gastroenteritis did anything miraculous. Without knowing anything else about your situation, my guess is that you have been making lifestyle changes over the years that have been good for your blood pressure. Losing weight, increasing exercise, quitting smoking, cutting back on salt and alcohol, and adopting a healthful eating plan like the DASH diet can reduce, or even eliminate, the need for medications to control blood pressure.

Will your high blood pressure return? The odds are in favor of that happening — by age 75, three in four Americans have high blood pressure — though you can try to beat those odds with continued prevention efforts. Keep on top of your blood pressure by monitoring it at home now and then. Ask your doctor to check your meter to be sure it is giving accurate readings. Also, alternate the arm you use to take the readings. When atherosclerosis partly blocks the main artery carrying blood to one arm, a blood pressure measurement done on that arm can be lower than it is in the rest of the body. If your blood pressure is normal in both arms, you may be one of the people who doesn't need medicine with the right attention to diet and exercise.

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