If you’re taking any drugs to lower your blood pressure, there’s a very important question you need to ask: Do I really have high blood pressure in the first place?
While that may seem like a simple enough question, the answer has been turned upside down and all around. If you’re confused, believe me, it’s not your fault!
And while your doctor may shake his finger at you and say with great authority that recent research has found the lower the better, that’s only half of the story.
But it’s a story you need to hear both sides of. Because the danger in taking meds to drive down your blood pressure to an arbitrary goal can have serious, life-altering consequences.
Just last week I told you about a group of researchers who came to the startling conclusion that 900 million people in the world are suffering from “high” blood pressure.
Those scientific Sherlocks uncovered that shocking fact by playing the old “change the rules” trick. If you make a “normal” blood pressure reading low enough, why, everyone will suddenly have high blood pressure! In this case, they dropped the target top (systolic) number down to an unbelievably low 110.
Another study done two years ago dubbed SPRINT managed to further muddle the issue by claiming that we should all be popping three or more risky blood pressure meds to get that top number down to 120 or lower.
But one thing all these “go low” studies have in common is to totally ignore every single thing we’ve learned about why blood pressure meds — and very low blood pressure — can be so dangerous. (I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.)
That’s something, however, that the most current guidelines on the topic haven’t overlooked.
Just-published recommendations by the American College of Physicians (ACP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) not only have set the record straight on what age-appropriate blood pressure readings should be, but dared to point out that those drugs have risky side effects!
Their recommendations are simple. If you’re 60 or over, there’s no need to take any meds to lower your blood pressure, as long as the top number is persistently no higher than 150. That finding, based on 20 controlled trials, including SPRINT, was graded by the two groups as being a “strong recommendation” based on “high-quality evidence.”
The only exception is if you’ve suffered a stroke or heart attack or are at a very high risk of heart disease. In that case, your systolic reading should be below 140.
ACP President Dr. Nitin Damle noted that these “more lenient” numbers reflect the risks of “aiming lower.”
And those risks are big. So big, in fact, that they can be life-changers.
Other research has found that sending your blood pressure down too low can launch your risk of Alzheimer’s off the charts. And if your bottom number (diastolic) falls below 60, your risk of heart disease and death from any cause skyrockets.
Then there are the not-so-little matters of lightheadedness and falls that can come from too-low blood pressure. Falling at any age isn’t good, but for seniors it can be deadly.
And a broken hip can take away your independence, sometimes permanently.
Plus that, once you enter your 80s — and beyond — high blood pressure has been found to be very beneficial in preventing dementia! That’s because higher numbers mean that more blood (and oxygen) is reaching your brain.
There’s little doubt that these two organizations, despite the ACP being the second-largest physician group in the U.S. and AAFP having over 100,000 members, will be feeling the heat over this.
That’s because if there’s anything Big Pharma doesn’t want, it’s for word to spread in the medical community that prescribing all those blood-pressure meds not only isn’t necessary, but can be downright dangerous.
And if your doctor isn’t familiar with these recommendations, or isn’t at the very least willing to discuss them, then maybe it’s time to find another one.
“Loosened blood pressure guidelines stir immediate controversy” Sharon Begley, January 16, 2017, Stat, statnews.com