A nation under pressure

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By Lindsey Seel

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 67 million Americans, or one in every three citizens, have a diagnosis of high blood pressure.

So we are, quite literally, a nation under pressure. But unlike the pressures that plague our daily life that we are very much aware of, the pressure I am speaking of burdens our heart, brain, kidneys and blood vessels slowly and silently.

Question: Is it important to keep our blood pressure in the normal range? Most of you would certainly answer yes, but while you know that it is important it may be a little more difficult for you to tell me why it’s important. Knowing the ‘why’ behind your medications can be as vital as taking them as prescribed.

When someone measures your blood pressure, what they are measuring is the amount of resistance (or pressure) your heart has to fight against in order to pump blood throughout your body. In a healthy individual, blood flows through their veins like a steady, smooth stream of water through a new hose.

Smoking, obesity, high salt intake and certain genetic factors over time can act the same way our thumb does over the end of a hose- it increases the pressure dramatically causing backup in the hose, strain on the water pump, strain on the walls of the hose and more extreme and erratic water flow out of the end of the hose.

Similarly, high blood pressure causes strain on our heart, the walls of our blood vessels (including the ones in our brain!) and the inner workings of our kidneys among many things. Now that you know this it may not be such a surprise that high blood pressure (or hypertension) increases your chances of having a heart attack or stroke, and developing heart failure, kidney disease and other complications.

There are many things you can do to lower your blood pressure (see www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/what_you_can_do.htmfor many options) but as a pharmacist I am most interested in which medications you take and how you take them.

Next time you refill your blood pressure medication (or pick one up for someone else) take one minute to ask the pharmacist how your medication works, and remember to take your medication every day.

The more consistently you take it, the more effective your medication will be in removing the pressure that is straining your heart and your body.