Regular exercise helps lower blood pressure. Adults should get about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. That could include gardening, walking briskly, bicycling, or other aerobic exercise. Muscle-strengthening activities are recommended at least two days a week and should work all major muscle groups.
Diuretics are often the first choice if diet and exercise changes aren’t enough. Also called “water pills,” they help the body shed excess sodium and water to lower blood pressure. That means you’ll urinate more often. Some diuretics may deplete the body’s potassium, causing muscle weakness, leg cramps, and fatigue. Some can increase blood sugar levels in diabetics. Erectile dysfunction is a less common side effect.
Beta-blockers work by slowing the heart rate, which means that the heart doesn’t have to work as hard. They are also used to treat other heart conditions, such as an abnormal heart rate called arrhythmia. They may be prescribed along with other medications. Side effects can include insomnia, dizziness, fatigue, cold hands and feet, and erectile dysfunction.
Treatment: ACE Inhibitors
ACE inhibitors reduce the body’s supply of angiotensin II — a substance that makes blood vessels contract and narrow. The result is more relaxed, open (dilated) arteries, as well as lower blood pressure and less effort for the heart. Side effects can include a dry cough, skin rash, or dizziness, and high levels of potassium. Women should not become pregnant while taking an ACE inhibitor.
Instead of reducing the body’s supply of angiotensin II, these drugs block receptors for angiotensin — as if placing a shield over a lock. This blockade prevents the chemical’s artery-tightening effects, and lowers your blood pressure. ARBs can take several weeks to become fully effective. Possible side effects include dizziness, muscle cramps, insomnia, and high levels of potassium. Women should not become pregnant while taking this medication.
Treatment: Calcium Channel Blockers
Calcium channel blockers slow the movement of calcium into the cells of the heart and blood vessels. Since calcium causes stronger heart contractions, these drugs ease the heart’s contraction and relax the blood vessels. They can cause dizziness, heart palpitations, swelling of the ankles, and constipation. Take them with food or milk and avoid grapefruit juice and alcohol because of possible interactions.
Treatment: Other Medications
Other medications that relax the blood vessels include vasodilators, alpha blockers, and central agonists. Side effects can include dizziness, a fast heart beat or heart palpitations, headaches, or diarrhea. Your doctor may suggest them if other blood pressure medications are not working well enough or if you have another condition.
Treatment: Complementary Therapies
Meditation can put the body into a state of deep rest, which can lower blood pressure. Yoga, tai chi, and deep breathing also help. These relaxation techniques should be combined with other lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. Be aware that herbal therapies may conflict with other drugs you take, and some herbs actually raise blood pressure. Tell your doctor if you take herbal or other dietary supplements.
Living With High Blood Pressure
Hypertension is often a life-long condition. It’s important to take your medications and continue to monitor your blood pressure. If you keep it under control, you can reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure.
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