What is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood pressing against your arteries. High blood pressure can damage blood vessel walls, and also indicate other problems like too much plaque buildup in your arteries. It also puts more stress on your heart. High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
No one wants that. So what can you do about it?
Many people think that medication is the solution. While it can be a solution, there is so much that you can do to lower your blood pressure without medication. The key is to try these changes first and know when it is appropriate to consider blood pressure medication.
First, you need to understand a bit about blood pressure and what the numbers mean. You have probably had your blood pressure taken and heard a few numbers. The first, or top, number you heard is called systolic blood pressure – that’s your blood pressure when your heart beats. The second, or bottom, number is diastolic blood pressure. This is your blood pressure when your heart is at rest.
Blood pressure is listed as systolic over diastolic (for example, 115/75). Here are the numbers you need to know:
- Normal blood pressure is below 120/80
- Elevated blood pressure is 120-129/less than 80
- High blood pressure is over 130/90
When to Consider Blood Pressure Medication
These are some questions you need to consider before committing to taking blood pressure medications.
What is Your Blood Pressure?
Your actual blood pressure reading will determine whether your doctor will recommend medication. Here is a guideline to help you know what to expect:
- 120-129 / 80 or less: You probably don’t need blood pressure medication unless you have another health condition (such as kidney disease or heart problems). But keep an eye on blood pressure and make lifestyle changes to lower it.
- 130/80 – 139/89 (stage 1 hypertension): You may need medication. If you have other health problems or if you are 60 or over, your chances for needing medication increases. Always try lifestyle changes first before taking medication.
- 140/90 or over (stage 2 hypertension): At this point, you probably need medication, but still make changes to lower blood pressure naturally.
- If your blood pressure is 180/120 or over, seek immediate medical help. This is known as a hypertensive crisis.
What other Health Conditions or Physical Traits Do You Have?
Some medical conditions will increase your need for blood pressure medication, such as:
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
Other physical conditions or behaviors can also increase your risk of high blood pressure and its consequences. These include:
- Age: Being more advanced in age increases your risk of high blood pressure
- Family history of heart attacks or strokes increases your need for blood pressure medication
- Race: African Americans tend to have higher risk for high blood pressure
- Gender: Men have a higher risk of high blood pressure
These are factors you and your doctor may take into consideration to decide if you need blood pressure medication.
Have you tried lifestyle changes first?
Blood pressure medications should not be seen as the only solution to lowering blood pressure. And even if you and your doctor do decide to have you take medication, you still need to focus on lowering your blood pressure naturally.
Before trying medication, try other solutions first. (See below: How to Lower Your Blood Pressure Without Medication). If these solutions don’t bring about desired results, then talk with your doctor about medication.
Are you sure you have high blood pressure?
Blood pressure can fluctuate. This sometimes leads people to think they need medication when they actually don’t. That is why it is important to be sure that you do, in fact, have high blood pressure.
If you get your blood pressure checked at a doctor’s office, your doctor will probably want to check it again in coming weeks and months. If you are monitoring at home, do the same—check your blood pressure regularly over several weeks or few months. If your blood pressure is consistently in the “high” range, then talk with your doctor about the possibility of medication.
Could taking medication be a bad idea?
Sometimes a health condition may not mesh well with blood pressure medication.
Pregnant women sometimes develop high blood pressure during pregnancy (such as preeclampsia or gestational hypertension). But are blood pressure medications a good idea? Some medications are considered safe, but others (like ACE inhibitors or angoitensin II receptor blockers) should be avoided. Talk with your healthcare provider about your high blood pressure if you are pregnant.
In fact, it is always a good idea to talk with your doctor about any other health condition before taking blood pressure medication.
How to Lower Your Blood Pressure Without Medication
Even if you and your doctor do decide that blood pressure medication is the right path for you, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Making lifestyle changes is still important. These will help you lower your blood pressure naturally without medication:
Monitor Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure usually doesn’t have outward symptoms. So getting your blood pressure checked regularly is important, especially as you get older. You can even learn to do it at home.
Get Regular Exercise
Staying active will help your blood pressure in many ways. When you exercise, your body releases nitric oxide, which expands the blood vessels. This will lower your blood pressure naturally. But it will also help you in many other ways, including helping you maintain a healthy weight and improving mood.
Consume a Healthy Diet
Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Try to decrease sugar, refined carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats. This will also help you maintain a healthy weight, improve your overall well being, and avoid buildup of plaque in your blood vessels.
Lower Your Cholesterol
Cholesterol is one of the major contributors of that nasty buildup of plaque in your blood vessels and arteries. Avoid foods that have trans and saturated fats, processed foods, and deep-fried foods. Include foods with healthy fats like fatty fish, legumes, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
Being overweight increases your risk of high blood pressure and other complications. Thankfully, the opposite is also true. Losing excess weight can help you avoid high blood pressure. You can manage your weight by eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats. Talk with your doctor or nutritionist for extra guidance.
Tobacco will create loads of plaque in your blood vessels. And nicotine raises your blood pressure. If you smoke, stop. Get support from family, friends, and programs if you need to. If you do not smoke, don’t start.
Limit Salt Intake
Too much salt will increase your blood pressure. Limit your salt intake to decrease it.
Alcohol can cause you to gain weight as well as contribute to plaque buildup. By limiting your alcohol intake, you can maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Stress and blood pressure are linked. When you are stressed, your body will naturally respond by raising your blood pressure. This is that “fight or flight” response that keeps us safe, but can also be hard when we can’t flee or fight problems like taxes or projects at work. Find methods that work for you to distress. This could be a hobby you enjoy or taking up meditation. And the blood pressure/stress link also goes the other way: by lowering your blood pressure, you can minimize stress.
Take Helpful Supplements
There are many supplements that can help lower your blood pressure so you don’t have to take a medication. These can be:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids (such as fish or krill oil)
- Vitamin D
- Garlic (food or supplement form)
- Folate / Folic Acid
- Nitric Oxide (such as Heartbeet Complete)
- Dietary Fiber
The Bottom Line
Blood pressure medication has its place, and can be very helpful. But if you don’t have very high blood pressure, aren’t over 60, or don’t have other existing conditions, then you probably don’t need medication. And whether you and your doctor decide medications are a good idea or not, it is always a good idea to make lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure. Exercise, eating well, and managing stress are all important in maintaining healthy blood pressure. And there are also many helpful supplements out there. And always talk with your doctor about what is the best path for you.