Get answers to the most frequently asked questions about hypertension from nephrologist Leslie Thomas, M.D.

Hi. I'm Dr. Leslie Thomas, a nephrologist at Mayo Clinic. And I'm here to answer some of the important questions you might have about hypertension.

What is the best way to measure my blood pressure at home?

Measuring your blood pressure at home is a straightforward process. Many people have a slightly higher blood pressure in one arm versus the other. So it's important to measure the blood pressures in the arm with the higher readings. It's best to avoid caffeine, exercise and, if you smoke, smoking for at least 30 minutes. To prepare for the measurement, you should be relaxed with your feet on the floor and legs uncrossed, and your back supported for at least five minutes. Your arms should be supported on a flat surface. After resting for five minutes, at least two readings are taken one minute apart in the morning prior to medications and in the evening before the evening meal. Your blood pressure monitor should be checked for proper calibration every year.

What could be causing my blood pressure to be quite erratic?

This pattern of abrupt changes in blood pressure from normal to quite high is sometimes referred to as labile blood pressure. For those who develop labile blood pressure, heart problems, hormonal problems, neurological problems, or even psychological conditions might be present. Finding and treating the underlying cause of labile blood pressure can significantly improve the condition.

Should I restrict salt to reduce my blood pressure?

It's important to note that some people with high blood pressure already consume a diet significantly restricted in sodium. And those people further restriction of dietary sodium would not necessarily be helpful or even recommended. In many people, dietary sodium intake is though relatively high. Therefore, an effective target to consider for those people is less than 1500 milligrams per day. Many though, will benefit from a target of less than a 1000 milligrams per day. Following dietary sodium restriction, it may take some time, even weeks, for the blood pressure to improve and stabilize at a lower range. So it is critically important to both be consistent with decreased sodium intake and patient when assessing for improvement.

How can I lower my blood pressure without medication?

This is a very common question. A lot of people want to avoid medication if they can, when trying to reduce their blood pressure. A few ways have been shown scientifically to reduce blood pressure. The first, and perhaps most important, is to stay physically active. Losing weight also can be important in a lot of different people. Limiting alcohol, reducing sodium intake, and increasing dietary potassium intake can all help.

What is the best medication to take for hypertension?

There's not one best medication for the treatment of hypertension for everyone. Because an individual's historical and present medical conditions must be considered. Additionally, every person has a unique physiology. Assessing how certain physiological forces may be present to contribute to the hypertension in an individual allows for a rational approach to medication choice. Antihypertensive medications are grouped by class. Each class of medication differs from the other classes by the way it lowers blood pressure. For instance, diuretics, no matter the type, act to reduce the body's total content of salt and water. This leads to reduction in plasma volume within the blood vessels and consequently a lower blood pressure. Calcium channel blockers reduce the relative constriction of blood vessels. This reduced vasoconstriction also promotes a lower blood pressure. Other classes of antihypertensive medication act in their own ways. Considering your health conditions, physiology, and how each medication works, your doctor can advise the safest and most effective medication for you.

Are certain blood pressure medications harmful to my kidneys?

Following the correction of blood pressure or the institution of certain blood pressure medications, it's pretty common to see changes in the markers for kidney function on blood tests. However, small changes in these markers, which reflects small changes in kidney filtration performance shouldn't necessarily be interpreted as absolute evidence of kidney harm. Your doctor can interpret changes in laboratory tests following any change in medication.

How can I be the best partner to my medical team?

Keep an open dialogue with your medical team about your goals and personal preferences. Communication, trust and collaboration are key to long-term success managing your blood pressure. Never hesitate to ask your medical team any questions or concerns you have. Being informed makes all the difference. Thanks for your time and we wish you well.

Sept. 23, 2022