Blood Pressure: Both Numbers Are Important

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I’ve always heard that at older ages, it doesn’t matter how high the first number of a blood pressure reading is; it’s bound to rise with age. My blood pressure is 185/70, and my doctor wants me to go on blood pressure medicine. My second number is fine. Why is he making a fuss? I am 67. I don’t like taking drugs. — W.S.

ANSWER: You have heard wrong. Both numbers of a blood pressure reading are significant. If either is higher than normal, it indicates high blood pressure. It is true that systolic pressure, the first number, rises with age. And it is true that the second number, diastolic pressure, tends to plateau after age 50. However, a higher-than-normal systolic or diastolic pressure constitutes hypertension, high blood pressure.

The first number is the pressure imparted to blood when the heart pumps it into the aorta. It takes a great deal of pressure to circulate blood through all the body arteries. The second number is the pressure in the heart as it fills with blood. Normal pressure is less than 120/80. High blood pressure is 140/90 and above. Numbers between those two pressures are called prehypertension, a short stop lower than actual high blood pressure.

You have high blood pressure, hypertension. Your doctor made a fuss because uncontrolled high blood pressure causes artery hardening, leads to strokes and heart attacks, puts the kidneys out of action, contributes to congestive heart failure and promotes dementia. Still think your pressure is OK?

If you are overweight, weight loss brings pressure down. So does shunning salt. It’s not the salt shaker on the table that pushes people over the recommended daily limits (1,500 mg of sodium), but it is commercial foods. Become a reader of the sodium content of the foods you buy. Potassium lowers blood pressure. Potassium-rich foods are baked potatoes, bananas, orange juice, peas, beans, milk, spinach, squash, watermelon, figs and cantaloupe.

Be as physically active as your doctor allows.

If your pressure doesn’t fall, then you have to resort to medicines. Eight large drug families, yielding more than 57 different medicines, give you a wide choice to bring your pressure down without side effects.

The booklet on high blood pressure will convince you of the importance of blood pressure control. To order a copy, write: Dr. Donohue — No. 104W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What happened to DMSO? It used to be available, but it has disappeared. Why? — W.K.

ANSWER: DMSO — dimethyl sulfoxide — was very popular as a treatment for arthritic joints. It is rubbed on the skin over the aching joint. The Food and Drug Administration never approved it for that use, and that may be why it lost its appeal.

There is a dedicated doctor and a dedicated group of DMSO fans who feel the same as you. They’re trying to get the FDA to re-evaluate its stance on this substance.

DMSO is approved for the treatment of interstitial cystitis, a painful bladder condition. The material is instilled into the bladder.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

© 2012 North America Synd., Inc. All Rights Reserved

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