Learning I Had High Blood Pressure & Living With It

In a previous post I alluded to the fact that I had some other health issues that I needed to deal with separately to addressing my weight, that other issue was my blood pressure.

It’s 1995, I’m 15 years old.

I first took my blood pressure as a teenager because a family friend had a personal electronic blood pressure device which I thought was pretty nifty. Each and every time I took it over the following 5-10 years, it was 120/80 like clockwork.

Fast forward to 2015, I’m 35 years old.

Historically, I’d have been the person that’d say that they’d never had a headache in their life but at this time I started periodically getting really severe headaches. To give you an idea of how severe:

  • my head would start to literally pound with my heart rate
  • participating in a conversation was very difficult
  • I couldn’t concentrate on anything work related
  • I’d see stars in my vision, which meant focusing on things became hard
  • I would need to leave work

Panadol didn’t help, it was like I was eating a lolly. The only thing I could find that’d help – laying down and sleeping for an hour or two. I’d wake up with the remnants of a bad headache but not what I now know was a migraine.

By the time I’d had two or three of these migraines, Claire had told me to go to the doctor. Of course, I didn’t do that and I waited for a few more to arrive and then eventually went because I’m an idiot. That doctor visit was interesting to say the least, it went something like this:

Doctor: Hi, how are you, what can I help you with?
Al: I'm getting bad headaches periodically.
Doctor: <starts taking my blood pressure>
// More chat-chat, back and forth questions and answers
Doctor: You have high blood pressure.
Al: Oh really, it is normally 120/80 - what is it now?
Doctor: It's 190/110, if it was any higher I'd call the ambulance.

It just got real.

The doctor was immediately uninterested in my headache and focused on addressing my high blood pressure. He prescribed me a short prescription of Valsartan 100mg. After about a week, it wasn’t having any impact so it was increased to Valsartan 250mg. After several more days, it’d come down a small amount but not enough so it was changed again to a composite drug of Valsartan 100mg/5mg Amlodopine and just like that my blood pressure started to come back down to a normal level. Over those weeks I visited several specialists to have my eyes tested (not for vision but other issues), had heart checks done, kidney checks done, several different blood tests and they all came back clear.

Fast forward to 2020, I’m 40 years old.

I’ve been living in the USA for a few years, my medication has changed from a combination of Valsartan/Amlodopine to Losartan/Amlodipine as the former isn’t available but it’s still working as expected.

In speaking with my doctor, I’d said I wanted to try and reduce or go off the medication as I never used to have high blood pressure. The doctor was amenable to trying since I’m 15kg lighter than when I first moved to the US, fitter than when I was 20, don’t eat any material salt in my diet and my blood tests are clear.

The test was to halve the medication and see how my body responded over the course of a few weeks. Unfortunately, it didn’t respond as I’d hoped and my blood pressure went up to around 135/90 initially but didn’t come back down as my body normalized with the lower drug volume.

Normalsystolic: less than 120 mm Hg
diastolic: less than 80 mm Hg
Elevatedsystolic: 120–129 mm Hg
diastolic: less than 80 mm Hg
High blood pressure (Hypertension)systolic: 130 mm Hg or higher
diastolic: 80 mm Hg or higher
The above reference is according to The American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults (2017 Guideline) via cdc.gov.

In speaking to my doctor about that, he said it could be hereditary and you’re just out of luck. Not exactly what I was hoping to hear, but I guess you win some, you lose some.

Thankfully, living with high blood pressure has mostly been an inconvenience to be fair. I take medication each night, check my blood pressure pretty regularly to make sure everything is on the straight and narrow then see my doctor a couple times a year.

One piece of advice, check your blood pressure even if you don’t think you need to as you often can’t feel high blood pressure. In my initial doctors interaction above, he asked me how I felt at the time and I felt completely fine when in fact I was far from it. The risks of high blood pressure are real, it can lead to severe complications in brain, eye, heart and kidney organs but for most people it can be easily managed.