High blood pressure (hypertension) is known as the silent killer because there are essentially no symptoms with this dangerous condition. If you take your medicine, you’ll feel fine. If you don’t take your meds, you’ll feel fine. That’s why up to 50% of us diagnosed with high blood pressure are what doctors call “non-compliant“ – meaning we stop taking those prescribed meds.
This may be extremely dangerous, because patients with high blood pressure are at increased risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. Women with high blood pressure experience a risk of developing heart disease that is more than three times higher than women with normal blood pressure.
And if you’re a woman taking birth control pills and are also overweight, you’re especially at risk of developing high blood pressure. The World Health Organization estimates that high blood pressure is the leading risk of death and the second leading risk for disability worldwide.
The best way to decrease this risk is to control blood pressure. Since the late 1970s, many guidelines recommend beta blockers, medications which lower heart rate and reduce blood pressure, as a first-line therapy against chronic high blood pressure or hypertension. In fact, beta blockers are among the most prescribed drugs in North America for the treatment of high blood pressure.
A recent study, however, suggests that beta blockers may not be as effective as first believed. But the surprising results suggest that no matter which medication you take, there is a better way to lower that blood pressure.
This study by researchers at the University of Calgary examined over 12,000 patients 55 years and older with high blood pressure to see what therapy was more effective at preventing cardiovascular events (such as heart attack, stroke, angioplasty, etc.). Their heart rate consideration was central to the study because prior research has shown that higher resting heart rates are associated with worse outcomes. The patients, all without known heart disease, were offered one of two therapy programs – and then followed up for five years. The medications studied were:
- a beta blocker drug, or
- a calcium channel blocker, a less commonly prescribed drug also used to reduce blood pressure
Study author Dr. Norm Campbell from the Department of Medicine at the University of Calgary explained:
“This study effectively demonstrates that the calcium channel blocker based therapy was superior for individuals with hypertension — regardless of their baseline heart rate.”
But Dr. Campbell also reminds patients that lifestyle modifications like a heart-smart diet, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and regular exercise are also required to control their readings, adding:
“In general, a healthy diet will reduce blood pressure more than any hypertension medication.
“And a combination of lifestyle changes is greater still, as these changes are additive — meaning the more you incorporate these changes into your life, the greater cumulative benefit you can expect to gain.”
These lifestyle changes include:
- weight loss
- at least 30-60 minutes of moderate daily physical activity every day
- a healthy diet that is high in fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, but low in saturated fat and sodium
- moderate alcohol consumption (max. one serving per day for women, two for men)
- not smoking
Q: Have you been diagnosed with high blood pressure? How are you managing it?