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I have high blood pressure and my head hurts quite often. What can I do? 

I am a 42 year old woman with a family history of HBP, cancer, diabetes, etc. I've had HBP since 2008. I currently take Atenolol 100 mg once a day in the morning. Lately my blood pressure ranges in the mornings as high as 196/139. After meds are taken, it goes down to 150-175/110-118. I have had an 8 hour heart reading at the hospital and also a "stress test" at the hospital. I've been told "no blockages & strong heart". My head hurts quite often, I'm tired, chest & kidneys hurt occasionally. What can possibly be wrong with me? My feet & hands itch terribly at night, wake up sweating badly with a headache. It's wearing me out. Please give me some avenues to discover with my doctor as I am getting completely tired of this whole process. Thank you!

submitted by Lisa from Arkansas on 4/2/2013


Deborah Meyers, MDby Texas Heart Institute cardiologist, Deborah E. Meyers, MD  

Dear Lisa,
Your blood pressure is too high and you are quite justifiably concerned. Your blood pressure should be below 135 on the top number (systolic) and below 85 on the bottom number (diastolic) or less than 135/85. In fact, if you yourself have diabetes, heart disease or other risk factors, your blood pressure target should even be lower <125/80.

Most patients with the type of blood pressure problem that you describe require more than two medications to get it controlled. Please see a doctor who is interested in working hard with you to get that blood pressure into the target range. Hypertension or high blood pressure is associated with a wealth of problems that no one wants including stroke, heart disease, heart failure and kidney disease.

Lifestyle is really important, too - you need to be following a very low salt diet of 1500 mgs sodium, exercising regularly and getting your weight down if your weight is over what it should be. Start looking at food labels and reading how much salt your diet contains. You will be shocked how much salt is added in commercially prepared foods and fast food eateries. Google some nutritional information sites to see how much salt is contained in your favorite foods. 

Finally - and this relates to the sleep issue - discuss with your doctor if you need a sleep study. This is to see if there are periods during the night where you are not breathing properly. If you do have sleep apnea or sleep disordered breathing, this can affect your blood pressure, the quality of your sleep and how refreshed or tired you feel during the day.

I congratulate you on taking the initiative to know your blood pressure readings. I try to encourage women to know their numbers instead of take a health professionals verdict of “it is fine” or “it is not fine”.

Good luck with this - there are lots of good internists, family practice doctors and cardiologists that would be thrilled to have a patient interested in her health.   

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Updated April 2013
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