A high blood pressure reading is occasionally seen when someone comes in for an unrelated reason (sprained ankle, cough, VD). When I mention this to the patient and ask if they have had high readings in the past, the answer is often “Yes.” When asked if they were under treatment, the answer is too often “No.”
Now, one elevated blood pressure reading does not a hypertensive make. But often people have had several medical providers tell them their reading was “a little high.”
So, in a moment of curiosity, I ask, “Why not?” One surprising answer is the following: “Once you start, you have to keep taking them.” In a rare moment of clarity, I ask, “You think blood pressure pills are addicting?” I get a nod. It does seem reasonable from the dire warning to not stop your BP medication (deep serious voice), that you may not even want to start it.
So let’s talk about blood pressure and BP medications for a minute. Blood pressure is just a pressure, like in your car tire or your garden hose. What would happen if you have too much pressure in your tire or your hose? It pops. There, that’s most of what you need to know.
How do you make pressure go down? Let out some air, close the garden valve (or hose bib for those who like technical words). So BP medications work in some pretty common sense ways. Let some air out, is just another way of saying diuretic. By making you pee a lot, the pressure in your body is reduced – you can almost feel the pressure go down. Or we can slightly slow the heart rate, kind of like turning down the garden hose valve. Sometimes we want to make the heart beat less forcefully, making a smaller pump, if you will. There are a few other ways to turn down the blood pressure, but you get the idea.
So, are blood pressure medications addicting? No. They make your blood pressure go down and keep it lower as long as you keep taking the medication. If you stop taking your meds, your blood pressure will just go back up to where ever it would be if you didn’t treat it. Blood pressure is just maintenance, like changing your oil. It’s a good idea to keep changing your oil as long as you want your car to keep running. Your car is not addicted to oil changes – it will just run longer if you do them. Same with your heart. It isn’t addicted to BP meds – it just will run longer if you take them.
Generic BP pills are available, so they don’t need to be too expensive. They don’t make you tired or weak, give you headaches, or hurt sexual function. There are enough different types of medications that there is truly something for everyone.
But medications aren’t the only way to control blood pressure. It unfortunately often works out that the patient isn’t doing all the life changes that will get the blood pressure down. Sometimes the doctor doesn’t even tell you about this stuff.
If you lose 20 lbs. and start an exercise program, we can always stop the medications. Weight loss helps control blood pressure, along with sweating and reducing stress.
Blood pressure medications aren’t addicting or magic. They work in pretty straightforward ways. The next time you have a high reading, ask your doctor about specific treatment, whether it be medication, lifestyle or both. No sense walking around waiting for something to “go pop.”
– Dr. B