Yesterday this article appeared in The Telegraph. Since it’s opening sentence starts off with, “Half a million Australians are harbouring a silent killer that could cause a heart attack or stroke“, and goes on to talk about high blood pressure, it’s obviously meant to be a serious piece – yet, in lots of ways I think it’s quite bizarre.
In saying this, I write as someone who has no formal medical qualifications, but as someone in his 70s that has been under the care of a heart specialist for nearly four years, mainly because of high blood pressure, who suspects that the article was written by a younger journalist with no personal experience of high blood pressure.
I first saw my heart specialist on 5 June 2009, when my blood pressure was 166.
What I should have been told was:-
(1) You have a blood pressure problem. (Anyone with blood pressure over 130 has a blood pressure problem.)
(2) Get yourself a blood pressure machine so you can check your blood pressure yourself as it changes 100 times a day.
(3) Take the right medication to keep your blood pressure below 130, perhaps as low as 120 – you can work on lifestyle and diet issues as well, but the good news is that the right medication will do the job anyway.
(4) You’ll have to experiment a bit to find the medication that’s right for you, and you’ll have to take it perhaps 4 or 5 times a day as there is no such thing as medication that lasts 24 hours.
This is where I’m at nearly four years later – as far as I’m concerned, this is where I should have been within a week of 5 Jun 2009! And reviewing what I was told, I’m so angry that I wasn’t – I didn’t buy my own blood pressure machine for nearly 18 months, on 2 Dec 2011, and not even then because my heart specialist recommended it!!!???
There are the parts of the article I find bizarre.
“While on in three Australians have been told by a doctor they have high blood pressure – one in eight don’t actually know what their blood pressure is“. Nobody know what their blood pressure is !!! – it changes 100 times a day. Blood pressure is a very inexact science. You can check your blood pressure 7 times in a row and it will be different every time, often varying over a range of 15. I feel doctors are often to blame here – they check your blood pressure once and give you the impression that that’s what it is, when it’s not. Five minutes later it can be quite different. You can only work on general patterns. I’ve never had a doctor tell me that – I’ve only learnt it from having my own blood pressure machine.
“The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to ask your GP for a regular check-up”, says Heart Foundation chief Dr Lyn Roberts. Sure, as you get older, GPs usually check you blood pressure as a matter of routine, without you asking, and thats the way in which you may be first made aware that you have a problem, but the moment you are told it’s over 130 get your own blood pressure machine, and THAT’S the way in which you will find out if you have high blood pressure.
(My blood pressure machine, which is an Omron – which seems to be the best brand, although I don’t really know – cost me $156. I have a doctor friend, also in his 70s, who has an Omron which is like a big watch that he wears on his wrist 24/7 to tell him what his blood pressure is, day and night, and he told me recently that he knows someone who wears a similar machine that is constantly signalling his blood pressure to his smart phone!)
“It’s recommended that everyone over 45 and people of all ages with other risk factors for heart disease, such as being overweight, smoking or a family history, get their blood pressure checked every one to two years.” I would have thought this was madness – such people should get a reading from a doctor at least every 6 months, and as I say, the moment you get a reading over 130, get you own machine.
“Although there is no firm rule about what defines high blood pressure most people should aim for a reading of less than 120/80″. My understanding is that this is wrong – it should be kept below 130, perhaps down to 120 or a little bit less, but you should be aiming to keep it under 120.
When I saw my heart specialist some 12 months after I first saw him, he told me that my heart had deteriorated somewhat over the last 12 months, so he would like to change my medication to keep my pressure under 130 – the implication being that during those 12 months, when I had no idea what my pressure was, it had been over 130, which had caused a deterioration in my heart, which makes me SO angry.
On the issue of when you should take your medication, a doctor told me years ago that there is no such thing as medication that lasts 24 hours, yet for marketing or other reasons – perhaps they think they’ll never get their patients to take it more than once a day – doctors try and make out that there is. With your own machine, you will soon learn how often you have to take it, what pills you have to cut into pieces to make sure your pressure doesn’t go too high or two low. As I say, I’ve found, by trial and error, that I have to take it 4 or 5 times a day. (By the way, if anyone is aware of medication that DOES last for 24 hours, PLEASE let me know.)
In summary, I suppose what I’m saying is this – with the aid of a blood pressure machine, get yourself into a daily routine where you keep your pressure below 130 and, say, above 115. After you have taken the first lot of medication, you will get to know by trial and error how long it is before you have to take another lot – it may be 6 or 9 or 12 or 15 hours or more, depending on how serious your problem is. But my understanding is that if you let it be above 130 on any consistent basis you could end up being told your heart has deteriorated, as I was. To me, it’s a small price to pay to minimise problems with your heart – I wish there was something as easy to minimise problems with cancer.