Understanding and Managing High Blood Pressure

Understanding and Managing High Blood Pressure


Hypertension is the technical term for high blood pressure. It is sometimes mistakenly believed to mean that a person is overly nervous or tense. When a person has high blood pressure, the pressure produced within their arteries is higher than it should be. Hypertension is relatively common. High blood pressure or hypertension is usually chronic. Once someone’s blood pressure is found to be high, it must be treated or at least closely followed. This is important because hypertension generally has no symptoms. That is, people cannot tell when their blood pressure is high or when it is not. You cannot tell by looking at someone whether their blood pressure is high or low. Because it has no symptoms, it can only be picked up by taking a blood pressure reading. 

All adults should be routinely screened for hypertension. The incidence of hypertension increases with age but it is not normal for older people to have hypertension. 

How Is Hypertension Treated?

Sometimes, if it is mild, hypertension can be treated with diet and exercise alone. It is important to work out a diet and exercise plan with someone who has expertise in this area. Only some types of exercise will be helpful and it will only be helpful as long as it continues. A thorough medical assessment is important prior to starting a new exercise program. There are many myths about diets. Dietitians are the best source of information on diets to help bring blood pressure down. It is possible that weight loss alone will bring a mild elevation in blood pressure back to normal. 

More serious hypertension, or hypertension that does not respond to exercise and diet, is treated with medications. There are many medications for treating hypertension. Often more than one medication or combination of medications is necessary to bring blood pressure back to a normal range. 

If left untreated, hypertension can lead to: 

  • Heart attacks.
  • Strokes.
  • Kidney damage.

What Should I Be Alert For?

The most important thing to be alert for is medication side effects. 

  • Ask the pharmacist or doctor about any possible side effects of the medications used and what you should look for and/or report.
  • One of the most important side effects to look for is dizziness on standing (orthostatic hypotension). This is particularly important as it can lead to falls and serious injury.
  • Another side effect of medications for hypertension is frequent urination. This can be particularly problematic at night. Talking to the pharmacist or doctor about when to take the medications can be helpful.

What Are Some Tips for Managing Hypertension?

  • Watch for side effects of medications.
  • Be sure medications are taken as directed.
  • Make sure the person has follow-up care even after the blood pressure returns to normal.
  • Focus on making the person comfortable, maintaining activity, and improving diet.
  • Do not stop medications unless directed by the doctor.