How Treating High Blood Pressure Protects Your Heart

Managing high blood pressure often combines lifestyle changes with medications. Sticking to your treatment might even save your life.

doctor measuring blood pressure

Updated on March 14, 2024.

In the United States, studies suggest that nearly half of adults treated for high blood pressure (hypertension) do not follow the treatment plans recommended by their healthcare providers (HCPs). There may be many different reasons why this happens. For some, the cost of medication or healthier foods may be one issue. For others, their treatment may have complicated directions that are difficult for them to follow, especially if they also have other health issues they need to manage. Some people may also have concerns about the side effects of their medication. 

Even when following your treatment plan is difficult, it's important to keep trying as best you can. Managing high blood pressure can decrease your risk for many health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Here's what you need to know about managing high blood pressure, and tips to help you follow your treatment plan.

The challenges of managing high blood pressure

There is not one "correct" way to manage high blood pressure. What works for one person, may be different from someone else. Your specific treatment plan depends on how severe your high blood pressure is, your health history (health issues you have had in the past), your current health or if you have any other conditions, and your lifestyle, including what you eat, how active you are, if you smoke, and other habits.

Your program might include lifestyle changes, like getting more exercise as you are able, losing weight, and quitting smoking. Your plan will also probably emphasize eating healthfully with plenty of whole fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy oils like canola or olive oil. It will also include cutting back on alcohol, and reducing the amount of salt and saturated fat (which is solid at room temperature, like butter) in your diet. It might also include taking prescription medications.

Finding the right combination of those strategies and the right treatment plan for you may take time. People can respond differently to different medications. You can work with your HCP to find the best strategy to manage your condition with the fewest side effects.

Talk to your HCP about any treatment recommendations or medications you’re prescribed. This will help you understand how to follow them as well as you can. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • How, when, and how often do I take these medications? For example, is there a time of day that’s best? Should a particular drug be taken with or without food?
  • What side effects can I expect? Are the side effects I’m now experiencing normal?
  • Do I have concerns about recommended treatment approaches?
  • Do I have concerns about the cost of treatment or am I worried I might have trouble affording my medications? Your HCP may be able to change brand-name drugs to generic versions or recommend an assistance program to help you cover treatment costs.

The benefits of following your treatment plan

High blood pressure usually doesn’t come with noticeable symptoms. This means that even if your treatment is improving your condition, you likely won’t feel any difference. But consistently following your treatment plan is the best way to keep your blood pressure under control over time. Each part of your treatment—whether it’s making healthy food choices, exercising, managing stress, or taking blood pressure medications—works along with the others to accomplish that goal.

Blood pressure that is not adequately managed and stays high over time can put you at risk for a range of health problems, including:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD), or hardening of the arteries in the arms and particularly legs, which can cause leg pain and fatigue when walking
  • Kidney disease or kidney failure
  • Vision loss
  • Sexual dysfunction

Continue treatment even if your blood pressure improves

Managing high blood pressure usually requires ongoing treatment once you’ve been diagnosed with the condition. Getting your blood pressure into your target range means your treatment plan is working, but you'll need to continue following it to maintain those positive results. You should always continue to take medications as prescribed unless your HCP tells you otherwise, and you'll need to continue to follow the lifestyle changes in your treatment plan as well.

If you’re having trouble taking your prescription medication, the American Heart Association suggests the following:

  • Take medications at the same time every day and/or take medications at the same time you do another daily activity, like brushing your teeth or eating breakfast.
  • Find a pill container that keeps medications organized, like those that have dividers for different days or times of day.
  • Make an instruction sheet for yourself or a “medicine calendar” that outlines when you need to take which drugs.
  • When traveling, be sure to bring all the medications you'll need for the entire course of your trip.
  • Consult with your pharmacist before crushing or splitting pills or tablets. Some medications are only intended to be taken whole.
  • If your medication regimen is too complicated for you to follow, let your HCP and/or pharmacist know. There may be a way to simplify your routine. They may also have tips to help you follow your plan more closely.
Article sources open article sources

Signorelli SS. How to Treat Patients with Essential Hypertension and Peripheral Arterial Disease. Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(31):4598-4602.
American Heart Association. Health Threats From High Blood Pressure. Last reviewed Mar 4, 2022.
American Heart Association. Managing Your Medicines. Published March 31, 2018.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes. Page last reviewed May 18, 2021.

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