How to tame stubbornly high blood pressure

High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke and heart disease. Dozens of medications and other therapies are available to treat high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Yet many people can't get their blood pressure under control even by taking multiple medications, reports the September 2014 Harvard Heart Letter.

"When people have high blood pressure despite being on three different medications, including a thiazide diuretic, they have what's known as resistant hypertension," says Dr. Joshua Beckman, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Some people with resistant hypertension may have "white-coat hypertension." That means their blood pressure is high in a doctor's office or other medical setting but normal at home. White-coat hypertension is thought to result from stress or anxiety, which raises blood pressure. To rule this out, a doctor may recommend using a home blood pressure monitor or a device that automatically takes blood pressure every 15 to 30 minutes over a 24-hour period.

Other people with resistant hypertension may not be taking their medicines correctly. To help his patients stick to their medication schedules, Dr. Beckman lowers the number of pills they need to take each day. That's often easy because many common, generic blood pressure medications are available in combination pills. "Initially, doctors often prescribe single-ingredient medications because it's easier to adjust the dosage. But once you get to a certain dose on several drugs, it's better to switch to a combination drug," he says.

A number of other things can help lower blood pressure independent of medications. At the top of the list: Daily exercise, and weight loss for people who are overweight. Other tips include:

  • Eat more potassium-rich fruits and vegetables. Potassium helps lower blood pressure. Good choices include tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, dried apricots, bananas, oranges, and cantaloupes.
  • Try not to eat processed and restaurant-prepared foods. These foods can be loaded with sodium, which raises blood pressure. Common sources of extra sodium include cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, soups, sandwiches, and cheese.
  • Go easy on alcohol. Too much alcohol can raise blood pressure. Men should have no more than two drinks per day, women should have no more than one drink per day.
  • Check over-the-counter medications. Many drugs can boost blood pressure. Common ones include painkillers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox) as well as cold and flu remedies that contain decongestants such as pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, and oxymetazoline, or eye drops such as naphazoline.

Read the full-length article: "How to tame stubbornly high blood pressure

Disclaimer:

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.

No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.