January 17, 2014

Can You Ditch Your Blood Pressure Meds? I did!

We interrupt the salutogenesis series for this important message!

I bought two toys for Christmas. The December 2013 issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter described two small devices designed for home use to help lower blood pressure:
  • RESPeRATE, a gadget approved by the Food and Drug Administration to train deep breathing, and
  • Zona Plus, a hand-held exercise device that calibrates grip strength.
In a post last month, I included descriptions and photos of yours truly using these gizmos.

If the endorsements had come from Dr Oz, Pat Robertson, or another huckster, I'd have ignored them. But the Mayo Clinic? Why not? One click on Amazon and . . . there they were, on my doorstep.

My History with  Blood Pressure Meds
I've been taking blood pressure pills for decades. Like everybody I know on these meds, I had to try several different prescriptions. Some didn't work very well; most brought side effects -- excessive coughing, or skin rashes, or lethargy.

My son recommended Avapro, so my internist prescribed 150mg, the minimum dose. She shares my belief that, with medication, less is more. But when that low dose didn't quite do the trick, we switched to 300mg. 

I check my pressure regularly with a home monitor. I've found that  I can get widely varying results from one minute to the next. I've always thought it was crazy that doctors are so quick to prescribe a medicine, presumably for life, based on single readings in their offices,. Still, that's what most doctors do.

In 2008, the American Heart Association and the American Society of Hypertension issued this statement: 
There is a rapidly growing literature showing that measurements taken by patients at home are often lower than readings taken in the office and closer to the average blood pressure recorded by 24-hour ambulatory monitors, which is the blood pressure that best predicts cardiovascular risk.
The 300mg of Avapro was yielding good results, according to my home monitor. But one issue persisted: midday sinking spells, during which my systolic pressure would dip below 100. Occasionally, I felt like I was about to faint.

I found a report from the Parkinson's Disease Foundation that explained "this symptom is common in mid- and late-stage Parkinson’s disease (PD), and it can be quite alarming." Both the PD and the typical levodopa medication can contribute to the problem.

Continuing my research, I found that Avapro shows orthostatic hypotension (dizziness and low bp) on its list of possible side effects!

Results of One-Month Trial of My Blood Pressure Toys 
Since Christmas, I've used RESPeRATE almost every day, and Zona Plus several times a week. RESPeRATE fits nicely into my schedule; after my regular afternoon naps, I take about 10 minutes for the deep breathing exercises. My regular 4-5am quiet time has shown me the great value of my own variety of mindfulness meditation. But I've never had success with deep breathing meditation . . . until I began using RESPeRATE.

And it works.

Even with Avapro, my bp readings were erratic. Some registered well over 150/90, the new guideline for people over 60. When my new toys seemed to stabilize my pressure, I started cutting my Avapro pills in half, taking only 150mg daily. Then, after a week of good, steady readings, I decided to stop taking the Avapro altogether. What the hell.

That was two weeks ago. During this experiment, I've monitored my pressure 4-6 times a day and recorded results in my health journal. Observations so far:
  • only four readings over 150
  • only one over 160
  • only a few below 115
  • none below 100
  • no dizziness
  • These two devices aren't cheap. But neither is a lifetime of popping pills. Plus, deep breathing and gripping exercises don't carry the side effects  risks drugs do.
  • Everyone is different. What has worked for me may not work for you.
  • My trial time -- a month -- is very short. I'll keep monitoring my pressure and check in soon with my internist.
Stay tuned.

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