Hypertension or high blood pressure is one of the most common chronic conditions among South Africans. Many people not realise that they have this condition because hypertension is usually silent. This means that it does not cause any symptoms until it is discovered incidentally during a medical consultation or when complications arise like narrowed arteries.

In this light, anti-hypertensive drugs are life-saving medication but it is not always the first option for every person with high blood pressure. Sometimes your doctor will advise you to consider changing your diet and lifestyle before starting drugs.

Conservative management (without drugs) is only considered if your blood pressure is very slightly elevated. It is at levels referred to as pre-hypertension, meaning that your blood pressure is higher than normal but not yet at levels that can be termed hypertension.

It is often around the mid-forties when this mild hypertension is first diagnosed and at this point you may be a candidate for non-drug treatment options. However, if your doctor feels that you need to be on medication then you should follow his/her advice and not attempt to stop the drugs on your own.

Reason For Hypertension

High blood pressure occurs when the heart is beating too hard and fast, when the blood vessels are constricted (narrower than normal) or when the volume of blood if greater than normal.

The reason why hypertension occurs in most people is unknown. It is not due to any disease and is therefore referred to as essential hypertension or primary hypertension. This accounts for about 90% of all cases and starts around the forties.

These days adults in their late twenties are sometimes seen with primary hypertension, and apart from a hereditary predisposition, it is also closely linked to the modern lifestyle.

The other 10% of cases are known as secondary hypertension. Here the high blood pressure occurs as a result of some other medical condition. By treating the underlying condition that contributes to hypertension, the blood pressure should return to normal.

However, with primary hypertension it is an entirely different case. Here the elevated blood pressure is usually chronic and may persist throughout life. A strong family history is one of the main risk factors, along with age (over 40 years), body weight (being overweight or obese), cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption, a high sodium diet and a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle.

These are risk factors that increase your chances of developing hypertension, but are not the actual cause.

Non-Drug Treatment For High Blood Pressure

Your doctor will have to ascertain whether your blood pressure is indeed high on 3 separate occasions in order to diagnose you with hypertension.

If you are a suitable candidate, your doctor may allow you to try non-drug options for a few weeks to month or two in order to bring your blood pressure down without medication.

Younger hypertensive patients are better candidates for initially managing their condition without drugs. However, if this fails to yield any results or your blood pressure is too high then medication is necessary.

Right Diet

The DASH diet is globally recommended as a means of controlling your blood pressure. It is useful for every person, whether you have a normal blood pressure (normotensive), pre-hypertension, mild or severe hypertension and even if you are taking high blood pressure medication.

DASH stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. It involves reducing your sodium intake and increasing the consumption of other more ‘healthy’ foods. If you are serious about treating your hypertension without drugs then the DASH diet is an essential part of the management program.

Regular Exercise

Exercise is another essential part of managing hypertension without drugs. But before you join a gym, you need to first have a complete medical check to ensure that you are fit enough to start up an exercise program.

Without a medical checkup, you could have a heart attack on your first day of working out.

Always start slowly and gradually build up your workout routine. Consistency is crucial. Exercising too infrequently can in fact strain your heart and do more harm than good.

Weight Loss

Being overweight or obese is a known risk factor for hypertension and it also contributes to other chronic conditions, like diabetes mellitus. It is therefore essential to lose weight if you want to control your blood pressure without having to resort to antihypertensive drugs.

Losing at least 5% of your current body weight can drastically improve your blood pressure but it requires perseverance on your part in order to avoid gaining the weight again in the future.

Stopping Habits

Along with the dietary change, you will need to stop certain habits like cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Smoking cessation is not negotiable – you need to quit COMPLETELY.

While stopping alcohol consumption is ideal, moderate intake is allowed. Apart from adhering to the recommended alcohol intake for your gender, it is also important not to partake in binge drinking. This means abstaining from alcohol all week and then drinking excessively during the weekend or some other day. It is a dangerous practice.

Managing Stress

It is not usually possible to remove all stress from your life. The causes of stress vary from rushing through morning traffic, to dealing with difficult children, worrying about money, experiencing problems with the boss, working long hours everyday or going through relationship problems.

It has become somewhat a norm of modern living. However, the way you manage your stress through relaxation techniques and employing good coping skills can make the difference in hypertension.

Natural Treatment

There are specific diet and lifestyle practices to achieve the goals discussed above in order to treat your hypertension without drugs. You should see a healthcare professional who can advise and guide you accordingly.

Similarly there a number of nutritional and herbal supplements that are known to be useful in managing hypertension. When combined with other complementary health techniques, these measures can collectively help you reach your target blood pressure.

But it is not simply a matter of buying over-the-counter health products and trying to guess your way through the recommended lifestyle changes. Professional medical supervision is imperative.

WARNING

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a very serious condition that causes extensive damage to the blood vessels over time. Eventually it can lead to life threatening conditions like a heart attack of stroke.

Hypertension should always be managed by a medical professional and you should never discontinue using your antihypertensive drugs (high blood pressure medication) that were prescribed by a doctor.

However, if you were just diagnosed with hypertension and it is mild, your doctor may recommend diet and lifestyle changes before starting drugs. It is only in this case that you should consider treating your hypertension without antihypertensive drugs.