My very first blog for Sixty and Me was published about a year ago, and it covered hypertension. Since then, there have been some important developments in how high blood pressure is defined and how it is treated.

That’s why I thought it fitting to revisit this important topic to help celebrate my first anniversary with the Sixty and Me community.

What Do the Numbers Say?

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that hypertension continues to affect more and more boomers every day.

In fact, almost 70 percent of women over 65 have hypertension, and this number climbs to an astonishing 79 percent for those of us who are over 75. So, if your doctor has told you that you have or are at risk for hypertension, you’re in ‘good’ company.

Secondly, it’s important to know that several months ago, the threshold for defining high blood pressure was lowered. The determination for hypertension status used to start at a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher.

Now, what is classified as hypertension is a blood pressure reading of 130/80 mmHg or higher. According to the American Heart Association, this means about 14 percent more people may now be diagnosed with high blood pressure.

The hope is that by lowering the thresholds, more people will be motivated to take steps to prevent further increases in blood pressure and the health risks of hypertension.

But the third development is the one that really got my attention. Recent research suggests several blood pressure medications carry significant health risks. In some instances, those risks may outweigh their benefits.

At the very least, if you are on any of these medications or have any of these side effects, you should consider talking with your doctor about alternatives or other steps you can take to manage your hypertension and the amount of medicine you need to take.

Increased Mortality Risk for Certain Classes of Medications

Research suggests an increased risk of death caused by two specific types of blood pressure medication, namely alpha blockers and alpha-2 agonists. These medications may increase blood pressure variability, which carries a risk of increased mortality.

To reduce this risk, be sure to follow your doctor’s recommended at-home-testing program to see if your prescription and other steps you are taking to manage your hypertension are keeping your blood pressure levels consistent.

Home blood pressure monitors are widely available and inexpensive, and you don’t need a prescription to buy one. If you start noticing many variations, talk to your doctor.

Falls

A recent analysis published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes suggests extra caution and monitoring may be needed when you’re starting, adding or intensifying a blood pressure-lowering drug, especially within the first 15 days.

The analysis found that serious injuries from falling – including brain injury, dislocating the hip, knee or jaw, and fracturing facial bones, the pelvis or hip – were more common within the initial weeks of starting or intensifying antihypertensive meds.

The study authors stressed that while this study showed an association between antihypertensive medications and falling, it could not conclude that blood pressure medication was, in fact, what actually caused the fall.

Nevertheless, bear this in mind in case your doctor changes your blood pressure medication or dose.

Skin Cancer

One study in Denmark suggested that people taking hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) to manage their blood pressure may be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. The study explained that HCTZ makes the skin more sensitive to the damage of UV rays.

Bottom line is, people taking HCTZ may run an up to seven-fold risk of developing skin cancer. If you are taking this medication, talk with your doctor about how to better protect your skin.

Mood Disorders

A study published by the American Heart Association showed that medications taken to manage hypertension may also affect mood disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder.

One especially interesting finding of the study was that this effect on mental health may not be immediate but rather may take time to show up.

Researchers noted that it took an average of a little over two years on medication before depression was diagnosed. In terms of drug class, patients on beta-blockers and calcium antagonists were at a twofold increased risk of hospital admission for mood disorders.

Better Managing Your Hypertension

While your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medications to help manage your hypertension and reduce the health risks associated with it, there are steps you can take – working with your doctor, of course – to reduce the amount of medication you may need.

These include:

  • Avoiding overtreatment andgetting an accurate reading of your blood pressure.
  • Getting a pet, since there is evidence that pet ownership may be associated with lower blood pressure levels.
  • Avoiding smoking and getting adequate physical activity.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Getting enoughhealthy sleep.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption (no more than one drink a day for us).
  • Eating foods rich in the following nutrients:

Potassium

Rich in this mineral are figs, dried fruits (prunes and dates), nuts, avocados, bran cereals, lima beans, broccoli, peas, tomatoes, potatoes (especially their skins), sweet potatoes, winter squash, citrus fruits, cantaloupe, bananas and kiwi.

Magnesium

Best sources of magnesium are leafy green vegetables (like spinach), legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Calcium

Calcium is another super important mineral. You can find it in milk, yogurt, cheese, leafy greens, legumes, seafood and fruit.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is known for a multitude of benefits. You can find it in sources including salmon, Swiss cheese, eggs, mushrooms, fortified orange juice and cereals, and milk.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is another important compound. Best sources include cantaloupe, oranges and other citrus fruits, watermelon and mango.

You also need to be mindful of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, like cold medicine, and how they may affect your blood pressure. For example, some decongestants may raise blood pressure. Read the labels carefully and, as always, consult your doctor about OTCs and prescription drugs.

Are you taking any medications to treat hypertension? If so, do you do anything else to help manage your high blood pressure? Are they working? Please join the conversation.

Joy Stephenson-LawsJoy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs, a national non-profit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. Her most recent book is Minerals – The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy, available through Amazon, iTunes and bookstores.

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