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Stopping Blood Pressure Drugs Risks a Stroke

Medication to control high blood pressure only works if you take it. If you stop taking antihypertensive medication without discussing it with your doctor, you put yourself at risk for a stroke.

High blood pressure is the most important preventable risk factor for stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Stroke Association (ASA). The higher the blood pressure, the higher the risk for stroke and other health consequences.

What's high?

Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. In people who do not have diabetes or kidney disease, treatment for high blood pressure is usually started when three separate blood pressure readings show readings of 140 or higher for systolic blood pressure (the top number) or 90 or higher for diastolic (the bottom number). In people who have diabetes or kidney disease, the cue to start treatment is a systolic blood pressure of 130 or greater or a diastolic blood pressure of 80 or greater on three separate occasions.

If your doctor says you have high blood pressure, he or she may first recommend lifestyle changes such as losing weight, improving your diet, and increasing your exercise. If these lifestyle changes don’t work, then medication will be necessary.

Many medications are available to treat high blood pressure. Your doctor may need to have you try several different medications to find one, or the combination that's best for you. Once you begin taking your blood pressure medication, or combination of medications,  you may have to continue taking it for a long time, perhaps even for the rest of your life.

Don't stop

Unfortunately, some people with high blood pressure stop taking their medication. If their blood pressure returns to normal, they may feel that they no longer need the medication. But normal blood pressure means the medication is doing its job; halting medication will allow blood pressure to rise again, putting the person at risk for stroke and other complications of hypertension.

These are reasons people frequently give for halting medication:

  • Unpleasant side effects, including dizziness when standing up, fatigue, stuffy nose, and interference with sexual function

  • Cost of the medication

  • Lack of information about hypertension and how important it is to control it

If you experience unpleasant side effects, discuss them with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to switch you to a different medication. It’s important for you to understand that there are many different types or classes of antihypertensive medications to choose from and that your health care provider will be able to find a medication or combination of medications with few if any side effects.

If the cost of the medication is a concern, your doctor may be able to prescribe an effective but less expensive alternative.

Talk to your doctor

If you have questions about high blood pressure and its treatment, talk to your doctor. For more information on the types of medications available to treat hypertension, go the AHA website at www.heart.org

Make sure to get your prescription refilled early enough so that you don't run out of medication, even for one day, the AHA says.

Here are some other tips from the AHA on how to remember to take your blood pressure medicine:

  • Take it at same time each day.

  • Take it with meals or with daily activities like brushing your teeth.

  • Use a special pillbox marked with the days of the week.

  • Ask family members to remind you.

  • Keep a medicine calendar near your medicine and mark off when you've taken each dose.

  • Post a reminder note where you'll see it.