The People's Perspective on Medicine

Hypertension Heresy: Are We Overtreating High Blood Pressure?

Until August 15, 2012, if you asked almost any American physician whether someone with a blood pressure reading of 145/95 should be treated with medication, the answer would have been a resounding yes! Medical students and residents are taught that hypertension increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and early death. Physicians have come to believe that aggressive treatment of patients with high blood pressure will lead to better outcomes.

Everything changed on August 15, 2012, when the Cochrane Collaboration published its analysis: “Benefits of antihypertensive drugs for mild hypertension are unclear.” The Cochrane Collaboration represents the highest level of scientific scrutiny of available studies. The experts who analyze the data are independent and objective and have come to be regarded as the ultimate authority on the medical interventions they evaluate. As far as we can tell, there is no better organization for assessing the pros and cons of pharmaceutical and alternative therapies than Cochrane.

There is no doubt that this review will create extraordinary controversy and push-back from the medical community. A bedrock belief is being challenged. That’s because these experts are suggesting that most of the nearly 70 million Americans diagnosed with high blood pressure are probably being treated unnecessarily. The researchers reviewed data from nearly 9,000 patients enrolled in four randomized controlled trials. These were people who had been diagnosed with what is called stage 1 hypertension. That means their systolic blood pressure was between 140-159 and their diastolic blood pressure was between 90 and 99.

Here is what the Cochrane Collaboration found:

“Individuals with mildly elevated blood pressures, but no previous cardiovascular events, make up the majority of those considered for and receiving antihypertensive therapy. The decision to treat this population has important consequences for both the patients (e.g. adverse drug effects, lifetime of drug therapy, cost of treatment, etc.) and any third party payer (e.g. high cost of drugs, physician services, laboratory tests, etc.). In this review, existing evidence comparing the health outcomes between treated and untreated individuals are summarized. Available data from the limited number of available trials and participants showed no difference between treated and untreated individuals in heart attack, stroke, and death.”

The abstract concluded:

“Antihypertensive drugs used in the treatment of adults (primary prevention) with mild hypertension (systolic BP 140-159 mmHg and/or diastolic BP 90-99 mmHg) have not been shown to reduce mortality or morbidity in RCTs [randomized controlled trials]. Treatment caused 9% of patients to discontinue treatment due to adverse effects. More RCTs are needed in this prevalent population to know whether the benefits of treatment exceed the harms.”
Over the last few decades something called “disease creep” has penetrated American medicine. That implies that the definition of illness has broadened dramatically. The label “hypertensive” used to be reserved for people with systolic blood pressure (the upper number) over 150 and diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) above 99. Nowadays, anyone with blood pressure readings greater than 120/80 may be labeled hypertensive.

There are data to suggest that once someone is labeled hypertensive it affects mental attitude. And most physicians feel it is their duty to treat high blood pressure aggressively to get the numbers as close to 120/80 as possible. That almost inevitably means medication; sometimes three or four different drugs are needed to achieve that number. Not uncommonly, these medications cause a range of side effects. ACE inhibitors can cause an unpleasant (and sometimes disastrous) cough. To read more about complications of this cough visit these links:

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

Other antihypertensive medications can cause fatigue or dizziness and affect sexual function. It is important to know when to treat with drugs and when to encourage lifestyle changes (weight loss for example and relaxation techniques) to control mild hypertension.

To read more about the new Cochrane Collaboration conclusions we encourage you to read the reports by Jeanne Lenzer in the BMJ and Slate. She has done an excellent job reviewing the findings and making them understandable.

If you would like to learn more about ways to control high blood pressure with nondrug approaches we suggest you check out our Guide to Blood Pressure Treatment as well as the in-depth chapter in our book, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy.

No one should EVER stop taking a medication without consulting his physician. Those with definite hypertension, (like the fellow in the picture with a blood pressure reading of 189/101) must be treated aggressively with medication. Hypertension does cause heart attacks, strokes and kidney damage and leads to premature death.

We do encourage those with mild hypertension to make sure their physicians read the review in the BMJ and then take time to review the Cochrane Collaboration report. Shouldn’t physicians practice what they preach, ie “evidence based medicine?” The Cochrane Collaboration has reviewed the evidence and has challenged the status quo with hypertension heresy.

We hope the medical community will be open to considering the new data analysis. And we hope there will be more serious consideration of nondrug approaches such as losing weight, deep breathing, exercising and learning how to relax and shed some of the stress that can contribute to higher blood pressure readings. Health coaches can assist in this process. So can family and friends. Perhaps it is time to look beyond medications for mild hypertension.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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I’m confused. This article and the research to which it refers both date from 2012, but the eNewsletter which includes this article is from yesterday, Nov. 2, 2018. Have I missed a link to further articles describing what, if any, changes in thinking have occurred in the intervening six years?

By the way, thanks to your radio show, some years back I bought the book “Overdiagnosed” by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch. This idea of (unnecessarily) treating mild hypertension is one of the topics carefully scrutinized in this excellent book.

I work in a nursing home. The attending Dr. states that if people have BP at or lower than 140/80 are not going to treated. The resultant hypotension causes falls.

At 13, I learned to take my own blood pressure. It was 112/80 and it stayed at 112/80 well into my 40s. Now it is in the 130/85 range, and I am 68. My doctor put me on a potassium-based, anti-hypertension drug 2 months ago, 25 mg, and my bp is now around 120/80–I have avoided any prescription drugs until this one. I’ll try it a bit longer, but the difference with the drug seems negligible. Until my feet broke down in my mid 50s, I ran 20-25 miles a week. Now I walk 2-4 miles a day and hike when I can on weekends. I have no risk factors for heart attack or stroke otherwise, though I’m working on losing about 20 lbs. I think when I reach that goal, I’m done with the drugs.

After reading the above stories I would like to add a few comments
1) We should all strive to keep our BP within the “Text book” normal range of Systolic 120 to 130 and Diastolic to within 80 to 90 .
2) If our physicians are suggesting meds to help us attain our goal, then we should adhere to their suggestions. It is for our own good.
3)All meds do have untoward side effects (due to the chemical composition of a drug).You have to decide how well you can cope with these side effects versus the beneficial effects.
4) I am 70 years old and have had 2 previous MI’s .
I do take a low dose Beta Blocker to help with my BP and HR.
I am happy with 110/70 HR 61.
Please do not take this condition lightly. Hypertension can have disastrous effects.
Wishing you all the very best of health.

I was reading some old letters from a woman in her 90’s who lived independently in her own house with no major health problems. Her doctor had made her feel guilty for eating the foods she had eaten all her life. Doctors and the medical profession have robbed us of something precious – the ability to consider ourselves healthy and normal. The first tenet of the Hippocratic Oath is, “Above all, do no harm.”

I’m 34 years old. I drive a truck commercially for a living, my BP (145-155 / 80-85) was causing some concern by the doctors performing the DoT physicals I am required to get, all of them urged me to lose weight and lower my salt intake, exercise etc.

I lost 90Lbs. I now eat 1700mg or less of sodium a day. I ride a stationary bike for 30-60mins a day, everyday, and have a resting pulse of about 55bpm.

My blood pressure is 145/78 at this very moment after living this lifestyle for 2 years. This is just who I am. Obviously I’m healthier thanks to their advice, but those things did nothing for my “hypertension”.

I really don’t care what organizations sanctioned the medical profession into stating that “normal” bp is 120/80 or there about.. After doing research on how this came to be, I realized it is the biggest hoax to sell drugs worldwide. We all do not have the same blood pressure, therefore, I truly believe “normal” bp is 100 + age and it was accepted for decades before the new guidelines were put in place. Some studies maintain that treating bp aggressively does more harm than good.. Ask anyone you know about older doctors and I’ll bet they will agree. Like every thing else these days we are turning people into idiots and those idiots are treating us…

I agree 100%! My BP has always been high normal or borderline. My doctor put me on pills 14 years ago because it crept up to 120/90-ish. I stopped taking them in June of last year. I had had enough. They were giving me side effects. I’m 55 now and have never had a heart attack, not yet anyway. I feel great, and I don’t have any obvious symptoms of HBP (yes, it CAN have symptoms) or artery disease. I now check my BP periodically (every few months on average), and it’s averaged 138/84 since I stopped the taking the pills. I have white coat syndrome, a really bad case of it, maybe the worst ever, I even get it while I’m taking my own BP), so it takes me a few tries before I get a number that’s close to accurate , then I use that. I’m not saying that doctors are corrupt. However, I think they feel pressure to treat people, or do something for them, even when it’s not needed. Also, those drugs make billions of dollars for the drug companies, we must keep that in mind. So, yeah, any BP that is consistently high (IE: 220/110, I’ve even heard of people with BP of 300/140 or something like) must obviously be addressed, but borderline BP, or even moderately high BP does NOT need to be treated with drugs! I have made many changes to my diet, and I’m taking vitamins & supplements. So far the results are unclear, although my BP was noticeably lower when I checked in August. But it’s still a work in progress. I took my health into my own hands!

How do they know high blood pressure causes kidney damage. Would having kidney disease cause your blood pressure to go up because the kidney is damaged?

Someone who thinks logically! It’s wonderful. I personally am convinced that we are over-medicated and a drug culture to boot with all this concentration of pharmaceuticals to treat everything that might be wrong with us when life style changes would do the same goodness and better for us.

I’m age 60. My old-school GP never did annual physicals. He retired. My young new GP recommends them. Almost immediately, the GP and gastro doc at the new big university clinic want me on one or two BP meds, plus a SSRI and Linzess for a chronic bowel disorder that started when I took Accutane for acne 25 years ago–for the rest of my life! From drug-free to drug-addled in one fell swoop.

I declined. (My BP is 135/85 at home, 150/90 at the doctor’s office.)

Disease creep. It’s not about public health. It’s about private revenue.

I’m 65 and male, 5 feet 11 inches tall, weigh 160, work out at the gym three times a week and do cardio at home the other four days a week. I also ride a bike every day in the summer. My BP is typically 140-145/ 85-90. I was taking an ACE inhibitor but it made me cough so now I just discontinued it and started taking a calcium channel blocker(Diltiazem). The BP meds have made me impotent. (unless I use viagra).

I have long suspected that the idea that we should all have a BP of 120/80 is absurd. I told my pharmacist that 120/80 is the BP of a healthy twenty year old. Only I’M NOT TWENTY!! I’M sixty five! As we age our BP goes up naturally. We need more BP to get enough oxygen to our brain so we don’t get senile. After researching the Diltiazem and how it works I’m thinking it may be better for me than the Lisinopril. It increases oxygen to the heart muscle and may improve one’s ability to excersise and brings the pulse rate down which is good because my pulse tends to be fast, around 80.

I’ve never had a heart-related incident. I had a Cardiac Angiogram and my result was negative for coronary artery disease. No plaque. The doc said this was unusual in a man my age, to have no plaque in my coronary arteries. Most 60 year old men are at least 30% blocked, and many are 50% blocked. They don’t even do anything until you’re 70% blocked. If I have any unwanted side effects from the Diltiazem, I’m going to go off the meds.

This is the link for my article with some new insights about terminologies for blood pressure. – This is one of the internet links that shows 120/80 mmHg is normal blood pressure.

Can any one answer my questions;

1) Who discovered that 120/80 mmHg is normal blood pressure?
2) What type of experiment and samples were used for generalization of 120/80 mmHg as normal blood pressure?
3)What are the health-fitness characteristics associated with 120/80 mmHg to claim that it is the best blood pressure range?

I agree that doctors should look at diet, exercise, non-toxic supplements and lifestyle factors more closely before automatically resorting to the heavy artillery of pharmaceuticals in the case of mild hypertension.
I had to stop Amlodipine (Norvasc) as the side effects were horrendous even on 5 mg., a low dose. It acted like a poison in my body. We all have different biochemical reactions but unfortunately there’s a One Size Fits All when it comes to BP medications. Yes, there are many other drug options but most of them are highly toxic to the body and should only be used in the most serious cases. Having said all that some lucky individuals are built like Mack Trucks when it comes to drugs.

The one thing I find is NOT EVER being mentioned is blood pressure that is 70 or below is TOO low, that’s not something to be happy about. That is a dangerously low level and can be the sign of unrecognized low thyroid function among other complications. To artificially lower blood pressure can be just as bad.

So what’s going to happen? Lower it even more. More drugs, more people convinced they are healthy…more people dying or having other complications due to being mislead into thinking their actually good health is bad.

This is just sad.

I am a lifetime nonsmoker and athlete. In my early 50s my PCP ordered a heart ultrasound test. I was shocked when it showed I have diastolic dysfunction and hypertensive heart disease in the text of the paper. A few days later I panicked and thought I was having a heart attack. Checked into a hospital and had been tested for 2 days and they found nothing. Got a cardiologist and he told me the numbers on that paper were in range but the text was dire. Long story short, I have been prescribed 5mg of quinapril a day for nearly four years. I also am on synthroid (I think I should be on that). I have an eye doctor who recently put me on lumigan for both eyes. Well now these are three drugs. I had another panic attack yesterday and checked into a hospital. I basically fainted at work and broke out in a cold sweat. Now the triage doctor said I have some irregularities in my EKG and should see a cardiologist. I’m thinking the combination of these drugs is causing me grief. I was so much better off four years ago. My BP at my first panic attack was as high as 145 over 90 but that was because of panicking. I had elevated BP up to then.

I have a lot of respect for the Cochrane Collaboration. There are some good books out there on over-diagnosis and medical myths that are worth a look also.

This is an interesting post. More studies should be done to determine if some persons are biologically normal and fit with higher bp. The study would probably be attacked by the medical community and drug industry. I have long suspected a stronger link to profit than health concerns. If 1 million people fall within a hypothetical range of point E and point O why not just move the range a little downward and upward to points D and P to increase revenue volume by 20%.. sell more pills… sell more Dr. office visits.

Your doctor can see huh? I had double bypass surgery 6 years ago due to build up of cholesterol plaques in 2 coronary arteries after 2 heart attacks in one day. Apparently, I should have been dead. I had high LDL cholesterol levels and low HDL levels so it turned out.
There were NO symptoms until the heart attacks (and even they were atypical!) and I not overweight.
I had a stream of cardiologists come in and look at me. Each of them could not believe that I would have had the problems I did, except for one possibility … that I had diabetes. So each of them asked “How do you manage your diabetes?” I responded “I don’t have diabetes!” They’d dive into the chart and a look of puzzlement would fill their face “Oh, you’re right, you don’t!” It was the same for each of them!
So, bottom line here is, your doctor cannot tell that you don’t have coronary artery disease with cholesterol plaques simply by looking at you. Even X-Ray vision alone won’t help him come to that conclusion!

I have been prescribed BP meds including Diovan for a few years now and it recently almost killed me. I’m a very active person who regularly gets dehydrated without realizing how severely. What I didn’t know was that it’s not a big deal if your kidneys can signal your arteries to constrict and raise your BP. Diovan blocked the response and my BP dropped very rapidly to 80/40 and just about killed me.
I was Triaged right at blackout and recovered within minutes when they stimulated my HR up from 40 BPM’s and flooded me with 4 liters of IV. I’ll take my chances with a heart attack before I’ll risk Hypoxia again just because I worked out for too long…

Am I the only one to realize that drug companies have a drug for everything but cannot cure a damn thing!!!!!

I can absolutely vouch for the honesty of your remark… they, the medical world darn near killed me with antacids. I had not enough acids to digest any food at all. I asked “gastro dr” to check me for not enough acid and he laughed at me, not once but twice. He commented I would be one out of a million. I asked him “what IF I am that one in a million..” that was the second time he laughed at me..

I had a sister that bitched at me for not trying betaine hydrachloride to assist me in digestion. I had lost 40 pounds in one month and knew I was on my way out. I found a NATUROPATH DR. she had me on about 100 herbs, vitamins, minerals and pre digested protein. Within three weeks I knew I was going to live… I was 75 yoa at that time. I am now almost 84.

I supplemented the acid for a year before I had to back off of five 650mg capsules of the hydrochloric acid. Rarely do I have to do the acid now. I am on no meds. BP is 115/65. My MD.. is baffled over it.. he looks at me and says under his breath, “amazing.” I never informed him I had gone to a NATUROPATHIC DOCTOR.
I am a blessed lady… do it the natural way if at all possible.

Very interested in your post.
What is controlled breathing program? I was recently hospitalized with pneumonia and sent home with BP med.
Energy was not improving at all and I came to suspect BP med. Stopped med and within one day I was full of energy and feeling like old self.
Am thinking breathing program may help my lungs heal.
Thank you for your help :)

I am a very active woman 81 years of age. As a rule I take no medications of any sort except for occasional ibuprofen. Five years ago my physician prescribed meds to control HBP which had no effect (but honestly no particular side effects, either). Adding a gradual increase of moderate walking, up to 3 miles, two or three times a week and eliminating added sodium and red meat was, however effective.
Then a year ago I had a colectomy requiring a 10 day stay in hospital. The staff on all levels were amazed to learn of an American (!) who took NO meds, During that stay my (resting :-)) BP was highly erratic and often off the charts (Systolic as high as 190, At my request, I received no medications except for a few days of Oxy on a PCA program and none since. My physician (the chief hospitalist) was well aware of my aversion to meds and did not express concern re BP readings I recently changed physicians and the new MD observed my BP to be 145/77) and suggested meds again, refusing to retest for white coat effect. (I switched to a more sympathetic MD within the practice) I have resumed the exercise program and more recently a controlled breathing program (3x daily) and the last readings have been consistently BELOW 120!! MY advice _ change doctors!

I am 72 good health good weight. Eat and exercise non drinker for over 40 yrs. Last few yrs. have had spikes in my blood pressure. Always had perfect pressure in the past. Medications cause very bad side effects. The hypertension doctor is baffled. I have also tried natural cures to no avail. It was thought to be white coat bp. The problem is it goes up at night also. I have worn bp monitor for 24 hrs. We are at a loss to find a solution.

I went to a doctor for treatment of a leg infection. When I arrived, I was asked to sit in the waiting room. The nurse came and invited me into the intake area where there was a chair, a table, and a balance scales. She asked me to sit in the chair to remove my shoes, then she had me stand up and step up on the scale where she took my weight. Then she had me sit down and immediately took my blood pressure. As one might imagine, it was elevated but just into the bottom of the “pre-high blood pressure” range.
Nevertheless, the doctor made sure to note the elevated pressure reading, warn me of the damage high blood pressure can do, and offer to prescribe 5 mg tablets of a very strong drug (lisinopril) designed to force the body to lower blood pressure. When I mentioned diet modification, he brushed it away by saying I didn’t have time to get my pressure down. I could always try to lower it with diet/exercise but in the mean-time I should be sure to take the drug.
As a regular listener to The People’s Pharmacy, I searched this website and found many stories about the drug. I was alarmed to note the warnings not to discontinue the drug (despite published research showing no immediate spike in blood pressure following abstinance).

I have noted on many articles here that The People’s Pharmacy often warn ‘not to discontinue’ drugs despite published research showing lack of efficacy or even harm of any given drug. I suspect though they are just covering themselves from a legal perspective.

I am 64 and take 100 metoprolol er and 40 lisinopril for three days now. It’s a new pill because the others did not work. My blood pressure is from 146 to 156 over 83 to 88 while on the pills. When I walk trying to exercise it feels like its going too high and I just sit down. Is the pills not working or too soon to tell? At night when I get up the pulse rate goes high fast then calms down. I am a little scared.

My husband, age 75, is at our geriatrist’s office right now for new meds to control his erratic blood pressure. Suffering from severe back pain, he has had seven spinal steroid injections (barely missing by only one day the compound that caused fungal meningitis) in the past 17 months. At that time he was on 100 mg Metoprolol twice a day and 100 mg of Losartan Potassium once daily. When his BP went to 200/100 before the last injection (he had taken his BP meds), he was told to see our doctor for a new med to control it. The doctor then added 5 mg of Amlodipine to his BP meds.
Fast forward to minimally invasive back surgery two weeks ago. Same problem with high BP just before surgery (and after his now three BP meds). Surgery was very successful, but his BP has been all over the place. We ended up at the ER a week ago when his BP went to 245/110 at 9:00 p.m. and was given 10 mg of Clonidine to bring it down three hours later and was told to take it any time his BP went over 180.
You have written about the danger of combining a beta blocker with Amlodipine and also about the ineffectiveness of taking beta blockers long term. He had a heart attack 24 years ago but with no heart damage, and he has been on Metoprolol about ten years. He no longer sees his cardiologist but needed clearance before his surgery. A much younger cardiologist, after viewing his echocardiogram, said he needed to cut back on Metoprolol to 50 mg/50 mg. The CT scan of his heart was fine. His diastolic pressure now often goes below 60. This morning his diastolic was 53 before BP meds but then went up to 170/70 after BP meds (no food, no coffee)
I question why blood pressure can go up drastically after taking BP meds. Is he being over medicated for hypertension? Our 62-year-old doctor isn’t open to results of any studies we present him and certainly does not like it when I make suggestions. I am not a doctor, but I can read–especially your very informative newsletters. Thanks!!

A retired doctor friend of mine has done a lot of research on the subject of hypertension. His conclusions were that there really isn’t any valid data from long term trials that supports the fears of organ or vessel damage due to high blood pressure. He also stated that if there is damage it is automatically repaired by the body.
My friend also admitted that these new conditions (hypertension, pre-diabetes, elevated cholesterol, etc.) are being used by the medical industry to increase the number of visits to the doctor’s office. In other words when the doctor says “…come back in 3 months so we can track this condition…………..) this puts a fear in the patient’s mind that something is wrong and of course you need to track it more often than on a yearly basis.
I have often asked the question that if high blood pressure causes damage to organs and blood vessels then why doesn’t athletics have an unusually high rate of these problems given that their BP raises significantly during physical exercise. One primary care physician said that it is because exercise is done for a short period of time. I’m not sure I buy into that answer since pressure can do physical damage immediately to a vessel or organ.
Bottom line is that I would like to see trial data that links hypertensive blood pressure to organ and blood vessel damage and more importantly what is the damage rate that is seen. All too often we are given statements like “..was an increase in…” or “…..had a higher rate of incidence…..” or some other meaningless answer. If some condition increases from 0.1% to 0.2% I don’t much care. However, if some condition increases from 10% to 30% then it is something that I should take more seriously.
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: The hypertension your doctor friend is referring to is mild or moderately high blood pressure. Really high blood pressure is a significant danger, but it isn’t clear that treating moderate hypertension prolongs life. That’s what this Cochrane review shows.
Athletes may have their blood pressure and more notably heart rate increase during exercise, but if they have been exercising regularly both will drop after exercise and stay lower than they would have been if the person were sedentary.
Do heed our warning not to discontinue blood pressure medicine without checking with your doctor. It is not safe to stop some blood pressure medicines suddenly.

Your article is very enlightening as I have been seeing a ‘pill pusher’ for nearly 10 years now. Whoever mentioned that your mind locks (buys in) into the theory that you are going downhill fast and need to grab all the ropes the Dr throws your way is right on the money.
I am an aging triathlete in my late 40’s and I have done more cardio than most will do in a lifetime yet I still have a condition known as pre-hypertension. It is my belief, in my own case, that is is wholly brought on by the stress,fear, and anxiety of life and just trying to stay in the game. Consider how many health related commercials one takes in just trying to watch a sporting event on tv. I have several college mates in the pharmaceutical field and they earn a lot of money doing what they do.
Exercise and eating right didn’t help my numbers at the doctor’s office (home #’s are what I go by now). I have selected a spiritual approach to my body now and more importantly my mind. Once something is locked in your mind for a time, it becomes engrained, and you are susceptible to ‘self fulfilling prophecy’. I’ve experienced death in my life of various friends, some in their 20’s and know now that life is not promised no matter how healthy or what meds we take.
My advice- enjoy each day, eat to live, drink lots of water, and be as active as you possibly can. Celebrate when you are at a celebration- it may be your last one…and lastly, just be thankful for what you have…. so many more have much less. Be blessed!

Hi! I’ve just come to read your idea.. I am with you mate “life is not promised no matter how healthy or how many meds you take” it marvelously sounds like some Omar Khayyam’s poetry! Personally what I fear most is not death but risking to live crippled or debile due a stroke..

I am worry about my bp because I am 20 year old and my bp always stay on 135 90 like this.
but today its was on 183 to 113 what should I do? I am much worry about this pls explain me
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Blood pressure this high deserves medical attention.

OK, so I’m told to take my BP at home, but the problem is I get excited when I even think of getting my pressure taken. How do you overcome that? My BP went through the roof at the hospital Friday [just the other day] when I was to get a heart catheterization, but after the test was all done my pressure dropped to 136/82. Still on a pill! Any ideas?

Buy a good quality blood pressure monitor to use at home. My BP tended to go up a lot at doctor’s offices because i just don’t like visiting doctors. At home you first should sit in a comfortable chair, both feet flat on the ground, and be calm and quiet for about seven minutes or more. Then put the cuff on your arm and measure. You will notice your BP is probably lower than when you are at the doctor’s office.

So confused. The Medical Professionals make it seem so cut and dry. To them 120/80 is your number. My question is who came up what that and how much did they get paid to come up with that number.
Everyone is different and EVERYONE”S blood pressure fluctuates though out the day, depending on what they are doing. Not to mention the different variables, that these people have put in place, it contradicts itself for example: a bp of 122/74 has a pulse pressure of 48 vs a BP of 140/100 has a pulse pressure of 40.
It would be told that the pulse pressure of 40 is more desirable.
The desirable pulse pressure example is a person with hypertension so is that ok? So confused.
I think blood pressure is not a disease it a business.

When a patient’ s BP is elevated In the office, I ask them to check their BP at home twice a day for five days and call the results to my office. I also have a chance to mention salt intake, weight, exercise. I make a decision about changes in their meds based on that information rather than one or two office numbers.
Many doctors work for large clinics managed by “suits” who are dedicated to maximizing profits. The “suits” dictate the length of time one can spend with a patient and have shortened appointment times to a less than adequate time for reasonable care. The business of running a medical practice is so complicated by insurance plans, coding patient’s visits for billing, managing staff etc that it is very difficult to have a successful practice without abandoning any hope for a family life. As long as the insurance companies and the “suits” are running medicine, we are all in trouble.
I work for the VA and I think we give better care than most private groups. We have 30 minutes for every office visit. We can see a patient as often as we feel is needed. We are not rewarded financially for doing procedures. We aren’t perfect–we’ve got plenty of bureaucratic nonsense that is frustrating. But we’ve got the best patients in the country.
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Thank you for this perspective from the other side of the stethoscope!

As a physician with mild hypertension your article and the BMJ article interested me. On initial read I thought I should stop my anti hypertensive medication. However, this cochrane review has many flaws that your readers should be aware of. My primary concern is that these patients were not treated for longer than five years. The effects of hypertension are more long term than that. Some of the patients included in the study were only treated for only 1 year. It scares me to read people on here saying they stopped their medicines and feel fine. The high blood pressure is slowly causing damage that cannot be felt or seen, which is why it is called a silent killer. Although the mortality benefits were not seen in this study, that is possibly because the patients were not studied for a long enough period of time. There is a reason they titled the study with the word “unclear”.
Furthermore, cochrane is not the gold standard source of evidence based medicine. Their reviews are often riddled with the flaws of any meta-analysis. Taking 4 bad studies and combining them does not make one good study but rather just one big bad study. Additionally, the 4 included studies all had different inclusion and exclusion criteria and goals. Therefore, cochrane’s combination of these different studies may not be valid. This all needs further evaluation and study before any changes to treatment recommendations are made. Practicing evidence based medicine today would indicate the need for medications for hypertension, including mild hypertension based on prior long term studies.
And for the conspirators out there, I am an ER doctor who never treats essential hypertension. As I explain to my patients who come in with hypertension and no other symptoms, this is a long term disease problem that your primary care doctor needs to treat. In the ER I don’t fret much about high blood pressure, I’m much more concerned about low blood pressure that is associated with emergency medical diseases.

I do believe in evidence based medicine, but I am concerned that the Cochrane collaborative review failed to take into consideration the number of people who have “mild” HTN for decades (as most RCCTs collect data over months or years rather than decades). As a cardiologist with particular interests in HF and geriatric cardiology I have seen more than my fair share of older patients who were told that they had “borderline HTN” for literally decades. Untreated or under-treated, many of these folks have developed one type or another of heart failure, not to mention mild to moderate chronic kidney dz.

Recently my doctor noticed higher BP readings. I experience “white coat” like many others. I also have bipolar disorder. I was told I may have to take BP meds.
I elected to try diet/exercise/relaxation. I purchased a BP cuff (manual and electronic) and charted my BP. My readings were 114/72, 120/80 consistently. I also took pressure readings when I woke up. When stressed my BP would go up to 149/89.
In the doctor’s office the same. But at home, across several months, I get normal readings. My doctor elected to try Losartan. I was hesitant and went online. I was shocked to find out that most BP meds are contraindicated for use with lithium.
Something told me not to start taking it. I’m glad I didn’t. I contacted my doctor and he was impressed that I had made the effort to be my own advocate. I was speechless. My doctor really tries hard to spend time with me. And we talked on the phone for almost 20 minutes about the risks of lithium and BP meds.
He then said he would do more research to find out what medication would be suitable for someone like me. And that he was learning a lot by talking to me. He kept saying it was such a pleasure to have a patient so willing to assist him in ensuring the best treatment protocol.
For now at least, I am controlling the BP with diet, exercise, and stress-reduction techniques. I know hypertension is dangerous. And I do not take the matter lightly. I have learned how to take my own BP, and it has to be done consistently, using the same methodology, across several time periods, and in a resting, relaxed position. It normally sit still for four minutes before taking a reading. I take it on both arms too.

J.T. your doctor is a keeper. Doctors like that are one in a million. It is so refreshing to hear about doctors who take time with their patients, talk to them over the phone and listen.

My bp was always through the roof in the doctors office!! They never believed that at home it was within normal range. They did a week long bp monitoring, which was uncomfortable, but confirmed “white coat syndrome” !! Don’t be alarmed if your dr. doesn’t believe in “such a thing”.

Chronic cough is a persistent side effect in a small proportion of patients on Lisinopril and other ACE inhibitor drugs. In your position, having donated a kidney to your sister and with a family history of high BP, I think you should tell your doctor about the side effects and ask whether there is an alternative drug, such as an ARB (angiotension receptor blocker) which also has kidney-protective action.

As a physician/psychiatrist I have been quite concerned about “illness creep” for a long time. At first I thought it was mostly a mental health phenomenon, but over the last 10-15 years it is clear that the entire medical field is at risk. Last week I had my first annual physical in 40 years, and fell right into this “mild hypertension” quagmire. It was my first visit with this doctor, and being a physician myself, he released me on my own “recognizance” to monitor at home. I can’t imagine how vulnerable one must feel going to a doctor’s office these days without having gone first to medical school. It is imperative to become as informed as possible about any medical concern.

I started taking a BP med many years ago, even though my BP and kidneys were good. My doctor wanted to protect my kidneys, just in case there might be a problem. Diabetics are more prone to have kidney problems. I had only mild side effects with the BP med. In 2007 I started having higher BP numbers, like 135/75, so my BP dosages were doubled. I started having dizziness as a side effect.
For 5 years I have had dizziness, and recently it is much worse. Sometimes I fall down or stagger with dizziness. I stopped my BP med for two weeks last year and my dizziness was so much better, I could walk normally. What a relief, but my BP increased into the 140’s. While using a full dosage of the BP med my BP is like 120/58. Why is that second number so low? Is that dangerous?
My doctor says it is not dangerous. If I use a half dosage my BP is like 135/65. Is it better to have a 135/65 and very little dizziness, or is it better to have a 120/58 and lots of dizziness? I have never had any kidney problems, so I do not need a BP med for my kidneys. The recent research makes me skeptical about my higher BP dosage.

it is just like cholesterol…. decades ago you were medicated if it was near 300…
now over 150 is reason to pop pills….
My mother at 65 was told to take BP and cholesterol meds… instead she took 1 mile walk daily and watched her diet… Numbers fell… she takes no meds and is 70 this year..
Get off the couch, buy some beans skip the meds.

I am 72, and have been a type 1 diabetic for 66 years. Many years ago my doctor had me start using a BP med, to protect my kidneys. A side effect of BP meds offers kidney protection for diabetics. My BP and kidneys were fine when I started using the med. I had no side effects from the med, but in early 2007 my BP increased to approximately 130/75, so my doctor doubled my BP med dosage. I started having terrible dizziness.
My BP had improved but the dizziness grew worse. I am presently having BPs like 120/58. Why is the second number so low? Is that dangerous? My doctor says that is not dangerous. If I take half the dosage I am like 135/65. At half dosage I have much less dizziness and can function normally. With full dosages I get so dizzy that I fall down sometimes. I have never had kidney problems!! Is it better to go on like this with lower BPs, or is it better to use a lower dosage and have BPs like 135/65? My doctor insists that I continue the high dosage.

My father was recorded as having high blood pressure when he left HM Forces at the end of World War II. I assume that at that time the levels required for the diagnosis of hypertension were considerably higher than today.
His BP was checked on a number of occasions over the years and was always said to be high, but he always refused treatment. He was always physically active being a cross-country runner and soccer player. He died suddenly, 10 years ago, at the age of 82, still regularly walking several miles and performing 200 press ups every day.
Perhaps if his hypertension had been treated he might still be alive today, but would he have wanted to do so?

A note on “white coat hypertension”. Often a higher pressure in the doctor’s office is due to incorrect technique. The scenario is this; you walk into the exam room and are told to get on the scale (stressful for many), then you are told to sit on the exam table with your feet dangling and your blood pressure is immediately taken often with the person taking it talking to you or asking questions. Any wonder your blood pressure is higher than when you take it at home?
Proper protocol is to sit for a few minutes with your feet on the floor and no distractions. My docs and their personnel get a little peeved when I call them on this. I am an RN. I have doubted new pre-hypertension numbers since they first came out.
Why haven’t more doctors questioned them?

I donated a kidney to my diabetic sister 15 years ago. My bp goes through the ceiling in the Dr. office, but I monitor it at home & it is very good. My new doc decided that in order to protect my remaining kidney, and because my mother had high bp, that I should go on lisinopril – 5mg. I took it for 3 months & felt like I couldn’t get out of bed, nagging cough, rash on my face & chest. I cut the pills in half & have fewer side effects. After seeing this article, I’d like to stop the med completely, but I am concerned about my only kidney! Comments?

Went to the Slate version of the story, to find the author talking out of both sides off her mouth, at the end, page 2:
“we shouldn’t subject patients to possible harm unless and until we have reasonably good evidence that it’s worth doing.”
OK, but we’ve done exactly this by changing the entire American food supply to be corn based at the root, and modified in just about every way possible in addition.
>But we do know this: Emphasizing far more effective—and evidence-based—approaches, such as exercising, quitting smoking, and following a Mediterranean diet, seems to be a very good idea. And besides, they work.
“besides, they work” is only true as far as it goes. When they don’t work well enough, or the patient isn’t able to work them hard enough (some of us simply choose not to be triathletes, even if that “would work” to control BP), what’s a girl to do?

Several years ago my doctor said that my blood pressure was high AND that if not lowered would result in kidney damage, possible strokes, heart issues, and other related problems. At the same time I asked a simple question “When I exercise vigorously my blood pressure obviously goes up very high. Why doesn’t this do the same damage?” Hmmmm… the answer was “Well you only do it for a shorter time period.” Huh? Damage is damage and during vigorous exercise there are very high peaks in BP. During a stress test the doctor continued my stress until my BP was 192/100. Was this not damaging? So it would appear that exercise is counter productive. Yes/NO?
Some BP medications work by no allowing a high heart rate which under stressful conditions will limit the amount of oxygen and blood that supplies various organs and muscles. Is this not harmful?
IF high BP causes damage to organs or vessels or whatever but it is not life threatening then it appears that this study did not address this aspect which is the quality of one’s life. It appears only to address life threatening issues. Comments?

Shucks, I wanted to see him have a cow. This is the type of doctor who needs a whack on the side or the head.

I applaud your article on Hypertension Heresy. I am a retired Family Physician. In med school we were taught don’t worry much about systolic pressure unless it approaches 180, treat diastolic if it is 100.
A few years later we learned diastolic must be less than 90, systolic above 145 should be treated in “young” folks but don’t get excited about it in older people.
And so it went in stages until now systolic is most important, old folks must be treated until they become mush, and eating must be similar to a horses diet. Now we will start retreating? If you don’t like what your doctor tells you today wait a year; it’ll be different.
This is not bad. We are learning at an enormous rate and must change to accommodate our new knowledge. Medicine is, appropriately so, the gold standard of health care. Your doctor cares about you. Respectful skepticism can help him/her care more effectively.

I’ll bet this study sends chills down the spines of drug makers. Though there are many doctors who don’t over medicate, most are sucked in by the drug companies and their reps. Thousands of patients have terrible quality of life trying to tolerate hypertension medication. The standards of what is normal blood pressure and cholesterol have continued to be lower and lower. Doctors keep writing more and more scripts.
This kind of thinking goes back to the days of Premarin when doctors dutifully wrote prescriptions for the same dosage of Premarin for every middle age female that walked into their offices, and every gullible female headed for the pharmacy. The biggest beneficiary was not the patient, it was the drug maker. I can’t imagine the millions they made. Now we know better. I hope that we educate ourselves and stop being so gullible about other drugs. The doctor is to be respected, but as patients we must educate ourselves and not be reluctant to voice our opinions to the doctor. We must let them know that we are gong to have a say in how we are treated. That is the only way this over medicating will stop.

My question, which I do not believe was answered in the study, is what about the long term ramifications of mild hypertension? What is that extra pressure doing to the arteries and organs long term? Although I have no side effects, I would love go go off my meds for my mild HBP but I am concerned for the long haul.

Over-treatment and over-medicalisation seem to be problems in the US and are becoming so here in the UK.
Only yesterday I heard a radio programme that was critical of the introduction of a blood test that resulted in many people being informed they have “chronic kidney disease” – a “condition” which is asymptomatic and does not require treatment. The net result is just worried people.
On the other hand I went to my doctor recently for a repeat prescription. As I have reached 50 I thought it wise to ask for a diabetes and a cholesterol test. He took one look at me and said “well, I can see just by looking at you that you don’t need those, but we can do them if you want to”.
I decided against, perhaps wondering whether this was good advice or a bit cavalier. And I’m not saying this is a good diagnostic practise. Still, I wonder if such a situation would ever arise in the US where the standard seems to be test and treat as the first option?

Thank you, Thank you. Now if someone could just determine why there
is often such a difference in home monitoring of pressure versus in-office
readings. You are doing an excellent job of informing us about unnecessary
drug use.
We assume what you are referring to is “white coat hypertension.” There is a great deal of literature about this phenomenon. In essence it boils down to the stress/anxiety/fear of having your blood pressure taken by a nurse or a doctor (whether he or she is wearing a white coat or not). Studies have shown that the presence of a health professional can raise systolic blood pressure anywhere from 5 to 10 points all the way up to 50 to 60 points for some susceptible individuals.
Bottom line…monitor your blood pressure at home and at work under a variety of different conditions to get a more accurate assessment of your true blood pressure.

When I realized the my medications for HP were making me dizzy ( in the hot summer), I started taking them every other day; no more dizzy spells, and my pressure is the same. Thanks for your article.

I am so glad you clarified pre-hypertension (mild). My grandmother died at 47 from a massive stroke, my mother who is 72 had two strokes in her 50’s and is taking life-saving medications. No doubt, she would not be here if she was in the same situation as her mother with no medications or medical care. Myself, I was just given my fourth BP medication this week. My blood pressure is in no way mild, but I know I need these medications. I am 52 and hope to live as long as my mother–with the medications! I would hate for you to lead anyone astray making them think they are doing the wrong thing by not taking medications their doctors prescribe.

I only get high blood pressure when I am very upset. I watched a show with Dr Andrew Weil back in the 90s on deep relaxation breathing and can lower my blood pressure with this technique within a minute or two!
My MD. put me on B/P meds because I am diabetic as a preventative for kidney damage even tho my B/P is normal like I said unless I am very upset. The enalipril gives me a cough and cold like symptoms that are uncomfortable. I stopped taking them and the cough has gone away. It did not seem to effect my B/P much if at all.
I do monitor my B/P and do the relaxation breathing every day plus walking and getting outdoors in the sun. I also take fish oil and Vitamin D3. My lil nice dr is a pill pusher. I have so many prescriptions but only take the have tos. He will just have to understand! We have to be in charge of our own health and not the big pharma or uninformed doctors.
Thanks for this info!

thank you for bringing this to our attention.
I had a wonderful doctor. Since her retirement i have tried several other doctors and have not found one who does not want to use a prescription med for a minor blip instead of counseling me about lifestyle. All the meds have side effects which are worse that the condition they treat.
I’m fortunate to have a long standing relationship with a naturopathic physician. Not everyone has such a resource. Your work is invaluable to those of us who are willing to take responsibility for our health.

Recently I had to go to the hospital due to an alergic reaction to the blood pressure medication I was on and they changed me to a new drug. But I am still alergic to whatever was in the pill I was taking, of which I have yet to learn.
At 75, I’m about to quit all fo the meds and let nature take it’s course, whatever that may be. The pills they gave me to help the alergic reaction almost stopped me in my tracts.
I remember years ago, as some of you will, that farmers used to eat stake and eggs before they went to the fields and then came home to almost the same meal, and they lived to be in their 80’s….without ANY kind of meds. SOMETHING is going on today and I have a strange feeling it has to do with MONEY! Any comment is welcome, especially and doctor.
Torrence, Please DO NOT stop any medications without discussion with your physician. We do not want you going from the frying pan into the fire. Once your doctor knows about your allergic reaction and the new Cochrane Collagoration analysis he may be able to find a path to controlling your blood pressure without causing you complications.

“It is important to know when to treat with drugs and when to encourage lifestyle changes (weight loss for example and relaxation techniques) to control mild hypertension.”
But actually COMMUNICATING with people, never mind counseling, takes TIME. It’s so much easier to just shove a prescription at them & tell yourself you did the right thing.

Just before the “link 1–there is a mention of cough. Is this an error?
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: No. The links go to previous stories from readers who suffered this side effect of an ACE inhibitor blood pressure pill.

I have high blood pressure and take linsopril, 20mgs

Thank you for this. I have been making this comment ever since they dropped the critical #’s from 140 to 120. What a boon to the medical and pharmaceutical industries. Could this kind of “medical creep” have anything to do with ours percieved lower than other inc. nations quality of health care.
Are we measuring the wrong things?

I find this most interesting
My doctor had me on 40 mg telmisartin ..he wanted to see the magic number (120 sys) …He recommended 80 mg and helped bring the blood pressure down into the 120s …after about a month, the side effects turned ugly (and not for me) At two months I stopped the telmisartin. and started the yoga breathing and got numbers 110 to 120 sys.
the only problem that I have is that I didn’t tell the doctor about all of this because he is a dedicated pill pusher and he has a very high opinion of his skills (in other words he is going to have a cow!)

I find this most interesting
My doctor had me on 40 mg telmisartin ..he wanted to see the magic number (120 sys) …He recommended 80 mg and helped bring the blood pressure down into the 120s …after about a month, the side effects turned ugly (and not for me) At two months I stopped the telmisartin. and started the yoga breathing and got numbers 110 to 120 sys.
The only problem that I have is that I didn’t tell the doctor about all of this because he is a dedicated pill pusher and he has a very high opinion of his skills (in other words he is going to have a cow!)

Thank you for keeping us informed. We need to know many things to aid in the managing of our health care. These ALERTS are fine information. In spite of our Doctors telling is to ignore the health information, they seem to want to keep us in the dark regarding our care and that they know best.
Keep up the fine work. Thanks. KRB

very interested in any follow up to this. current pressure is in the 150’s/ 80’s. have tried pills in the past and get side effects – including almost always stomach issues from them in addition to other side effects.
currently trying to lose a few pounds ( not that much overweight) and exercise a bit more. (other physical issues prevent lots of exercise choices).
dr. will want me to start meds in 4 months if pressure doesn’t go down. very glad for this post as gives me more reasons not to start meds.

Thanks for publicizing this important study. “Disease creep” can be seen in other areas such as cholesterol control, or osteoporosis/osteopenia treatment. (We called it “mission creep” when I was in the military.)
In any event, the intial treatment, and the follow-up treatment of all the undesirable side effects, contributes mightily to the ever increasing dollar cost of health care.

2 1/2 years ago I was told that I absolutely had to start medication. In hindsight I believe that stress was causing the high measurements but there was no discussion of alternatives. I have never been so miserable in my life. All the drugs caused problems and the highest measurements I’ve ever had in my life came after starting medication.
I stopped all the “blockers” and “inhibitors” a year and a half ago and got off the diuretic one year ago. I’m still waiting to recover. In addition to various aches such as my left arm and the back of my head my heart rate, which was averaging in the mid 70’s before drugs, now is rarely below 90. I believe I have traded a small statistical possibility for a very real here and now problem. For now I have given up on the medical profession. Thanks a lot drug companies and assembly line medicine!

Plus the drugs make people larthargic and the best cure for high blood pressure is exercise especially walking. So drug treatment is counter-productive.
For people with really high blood pressure the drugs are life savers, no doubt about it. But as your point out, if blood pressure medication is used for mild hypertension and it makes people lethargic so that they cannot exercise it could be considered counter-productive. Thanks for your thoughtful message

Excellent information. I am lucky to have a doctor who does not overtreat but she still has a tendency to prescribe meds when they probably are not necessary. I LOVE all of your non-drug information to control various condition. Keep up the good work.

Whether it’s called “disease creep” or diagnostic inflation or medical imperialism or disease mongering or overdiagnosis or medicalization or pathologization…. how can we trust Pharma?

Thank you so much for this article. It reminds me of the osteopenia disease creep, and how the FRAX (prediction of fracture test) took away the fear/scare of that for me. Similarly, these articles remove my fear that by focusing on lifestyle changes and healthy nutrition that I’m doing something risky regarding my heart and brain. I will continue to monitor my BP and talk to my doctor, but thank you again!

I have had mild hypertension since the late 80’s, when my doctor decided to treat my 120/95 numbers. It had stayed there for many years, and I was very healthy. Many different combinations were tried, and with every year that passed my bp got higher. I ditched the medications and have had no discernible damage. Eyes and kidneys are fine, but bp continues to be high in a doctor’s office. At home it is just slightly higher than the numbers in this article.
Recently I went to a clinic for a sore throat and my bp went out of sight. Adding to the numbers was the fact that they did not have a proper sized cuff for my chubby arms and squeezed them so tight they hurt, even left bruises. Gee, my arms are burning and my bp goes ballistic, so I need more pills.
After the doctor added a third medication with still no results, she wanted me to see a “specialist” friend of hers at our local teaching hospital. Having worked there as a temp, I declined the offer to run up thousands of dollars in expenses and become a med school guinea pig. I have no insurance, will be eligible for Medicare early next year, so I decided to wait, find a doctor I trust, and then have a complete workup to see if I even need to take pills that make me cough and make my hair fall out. Going to try the natural remedies in your books, since only a lowering of 15 to 20 points is all I need.
Thanks so much for your being diligent to inform us on issues that are so vital to people’s lives.

Very helpful

And now we have pre-hypertension which we are treating. I am an MD and I am prehypertensive and I think i should be taking meds. But I have virtually no side effects. Dr Tom D.
Dr. Tom, we think you should read the new analysis from the Cochrane Collaboration very carefully and see what the evidence has to say. Then get back to us with your thoughtful response.

My husband is a regular blood donor. The blood bank sends him a letter noting total nonfasting cholesterol and blood pressure. His BP reading of 122/72 recently was marked “mildly elevated.” Ridiculous!

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