Demystifying High Blood Pressure or Hypertension
Managing blood pressure without medications
by Sreeja V., Jan 28 2020
Listen to the Stories
A Silent Intruder
It was a case of happenstance for both our storytellers, who were diagnosed with high blood pressure. Neither of them suspected they had the condition. For the 66-year-old, it happened in 2013, when she got her blood pressure monitored as an afterthought by the health nurse, who came by to check on her father-in-law. To her surprise, the systolic reading was well over 200 mmHg and the nurse advised her to get to a doctor as soon as possible. Our second storyteller, a San Francisco resident, did have a family history of high blood pressure, but she always had low blood pressure at 110 / 70 mmHg, even through both her pregnancies. So when she checked her blood pressure in late 2017, she was surprised to see that it had peaked to 140mmHg by 105mmHg. Both of our storytellers had no visible symptoms. And that’s probably why high blood pressure or Hypertension in medical parlance is known as a ‘silent killer’. It has emerged as a major public health problem leading to around 7.5 million deaths or 12.8% of the total of all annual deaths worldwide. About 1.56 billion adults are predicted to suffer from hypertension in 20251.
Blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood on the walls of the arteries as it flows through them2. However, when the blood starts to flow more forcefully through the arteries it is called high blood pressure. A blood pressure reading takes into account both systolic and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the force of the blood on the walls of the arteries as the heart contracts and tends to be high. Diastolic is the pressure between heart beats, when the heart relaxes and is the lower among the two. Both readings are measured in millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) units3 and the ideal blood pressure would be 120 mmHg (systolic) by 70 mmHg (diastolic). When hypertension occurs without any underlying reason it is called primary hypertension. If it occurs due to an underlying condition such as kidney problems, medication, congenital defects, thyroid or adrenal issues, it is secondary hypertension4.
Is LifeLong Medication The Only Option?
When the 66-year-old met up with her doctor, his words came as a rude shock. He said she could die in her sleep. She was so put off by that statement that she decided to consult another doctor and was soon put on anti-hypertensive medication. She was told she would have to be on them lifelong. She hated taking medication and told the doctor that she would prove her wrong. The San Francisco resident consulted her doctor at Stanford. She still had a BP reading of 155/110 mmHg and the doctor confirmed she had high blood pressure and must start medication. She also warned her about how if left untreated, hypertension could cause the blood to literally pound the organs. She requested the doctor to give her a month’s time to get onto the medication. She soon travelled to India and went through another round of tests, this time with a 24x7 blood pressure monitor tied to her arm, that indicated that her blood pressure went as high as 175/115 mmHg at certain times of the day. The cardiologist she consulted in India suggested she get onto medication as soon as possible.
The Journey Back To Normal
Our San Francisco storyteller wanted to get to the root cause of the problem and she decided to do some research. She came upon a white paper published in a scientific journal that said that blood pressure is actually caused by low plasma levels in the blood, leading to the blood retaining more sodium, causing the pressure to increase. Blood plasma comprises 91 to 92 % of water and 8% to 9% of solids5. She inferred from this that keeping herself well hydrated might possibly improve her blood plasma levels. So she worked on two things: the first was to drink two litres of water throughout the day; the second was to go on a ‘zero caffeine’ regime, since caffeine is known to cause dehydration. Within three weeks her blood pressure returned to 110/70 mmHg. When she walked into her doctor’s office at Stanford as promised, her doctor examined her and told her that she wasn’t her patient anymore.
As for our 66-year-old storyteller, she started eating healthy, exercising and drinking a lot of water and brought her blood pressure back to normal levels. She also invested in a blood pressure monitor to help her watch her blood pressure levels. She stopped taking medication. Her blood pressure has stayed normal for years together now.
Our storytellers went against the tide, choosing to put faith in their ability to understand and circumvent hypertension by doing research, adopting a healthy lifestyle and making the lifestyle changes necessary to keep their blood pressure normal without medications.