Medication or Meditation . . . Which Is REALLY Going to Cut My Blood Pressure? CONVENTIONAL COMPLEMENTARY HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE

Article excerpt

Byline: LUCY MAYHEW

HIGH blood pressure is the most common cause of death and disability in Britain, with almost half of the 240,000 heart failure-related deaths linked to it.

Blood pressure is the force exerted by blood on the walls of the arteries when the heart beats. Sixteen million people in the UK have high blood pressure, or hypertension, but only ten per cent manage to bring it under control.

CONVENTIONAL

NINETY-FIVE per cent of hypertension cases have no definite cause. There are no symptoms and it can be detected only by having your blood pressure level measured, normally by a GP or by using a home-testing kit.

Blood pressure is read by measuring the maximum (systolic) pressure reached when the heart is pumping out blood and the minimum (diastolic) pressure when the heart relaxes.

High blood pressure starts at 140/90mm Hg, but Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at St George's Hospital in London, says even those with an average reading of 120/80 should take steps to prevent hypertension.

The most important change is to cut salt out of your diet (salt retains fluid in the body, which results in raised blood pressure).

In some cases, medication is necessary. A combination of drugs that block blood pressure-regulating hormones and reduce constriction in small blood vessels - in conjunction with diuretics - has been found to be most effective.

These drugs are called ACE-inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme) and ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers) and includes the drug Valsartan, which is said to have none of the unpleasant side-effects of other blood pressure pills.

In most cases beta-blockers, which slow the heart rate and decrease the force needed to contract the heart muscle, have been phased out because they can cause side- effects such as painfully swollen hands or ankles.

COMPLEMENTARY

THE MOST widely used complementary approaches to hypertension are stress-reduction techniques and relaxation therapies.

Stress can raise blood pressure via the brain's limbic system as the body, when it senses a threat, prepares for a flight-or-fight response. This can be harmful over a prolonged period if the person cannot learn to relax.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends meditation and cognitive therapies - a version of psychotherapy which changes the way patients perceive and respond to stress.

Dr Alex Concorde, fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, teaches Applied Transformational Psychoneuroimmunology (ATPNI). This is a form of psychotherapy which involves a therapist asking questions in a certain way so that they can understand what triggers each patient's limbic area to raise blood pressure, and suggest ways to stop it happening. …