Gilmer Free Press
Ask the Doctor: Lowering High Blood Pressure
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Is a blood pressure of 165/95 all that bad? I know my dad’s blood pressure has been over 200, and he’s still alive at age 79. I take a water pill, but I’d like to lower it without any medicine. Is that possible? How? - K.C.
ANSWER: Normal blood pressure is a reading of less than 120/80. Pressures of 140/90 or higher are considered hypertension (high blood pressure). Numbers between those two readings are called prehypertension - not high blood pressure but likely to become high blood pressure in a short time. Elevation of either number - the first (systolic) or the second (diastolic) - constitutes high pressure. Both can be elevated. High blood pressure leads to heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and eye damage. Your pressure is bad enough to put you at risk for those complications.
Weight loss lowers pressure by 5 to 10 points for about 20 pounds of weight reduction. Half an hour of daily exercise brings it down 2 to 4 points; a low-salt diet reduces it by 2 to 8 points; moderating alcohol intake (two drinks a day for men, one for women) takes off 2 to 4 points.
Adopting the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet can decrease blood pressure by a whopping 14 points. This diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables and grains. It de-emphasizes saturated fats, the fats in meat and whole-fat dairy products. Low-fat dairy products are allowed. Adding potassium-rich foods is another way to control blood pressure - foods such as bananas, oranges, kidney beans, navy beans, potatoes with skins, cantaloupe, raisins, dates, spinach and sweet potatoes.
These interventions work for many but not for all, and a number of people still have to resort to medicines for blood pressure control. Diuretics (your water pill) often are chosen for a pressure like yours. We have five different classes of blood pressure medicines, with many medicines in each class. Adding a medicine from another class is sometimes necessary, a third drug has to be prescribed.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible.