There’s an irony at the heart of the treatment of high blood pressure. The malady itself often has no symptoms, yet the medicines to treat it — and to prevent a stroke or heart attack later — can make people feel crummy.
“It’s not that you don’t want to take it, because you know it’s going to help you. But it’s the getting used to it,” says Sharon Fulson, a customer service representative from Nashville, Tenn., who is trying to monitor and control her hypertension.
The daily pills Fulson started taking last year make her feel groggy and nervous. Other people on the drugs report dizziness, nausea and diarrhea, and men, in particular, can have trouble with arousal.
“All of these side effects are worse than the high blood pressure,” Fulson says.
Research shows roughly half of patients don’t take their high blood pressure medicine as they should, even though heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. For many unfortunate people, their first symptom of high blood pressure is a catastrophic cardiac event. That’s why hypertension is called the “silent killer.”
A drug test is now available that can flag whether a patient is actually taking their prescribed medication. The screening, which requires a urine sample, is meant to spark a more truthful conversation between patient and doctor.
Fulson’s blood pressure is a moving target, and when she shows me the way she usually checks it at home, it’s a little high.