Almost twenty years ago I went to my doctor for a prolonged cold. The sinus infection that I had could be treated, but there was something else out of kilter that day: my blood pressure was elevated. I’d never had a high reading before, so the doctor sent me home with a BP cuff and a list of lifestyle changes. They included exercise, weight control, no smoking and a low sodium diet. I was also to take frequent readings of my blood pressure at home and record the results.
I was glad that my doctor took the conservative route of lifestyle changes. After all, I was only in my thirties. There was only one problem with the lifestyle approach: I was not overweight, already exercised almost daily, and I didn’t smoke. All that was left was the low sodium diet. I attacked it with a vengeance because I didn’t want to be on medication for life. I was too young for that!
I read all that I could about the sodium in foods. I ate salads without salty dressing. I went to a health food co-op and found low sodium bread. I bought a special brand of canned soup with no salt added(truly awful!) I ate less than half the recommended limit of sodium, which isn’t easy.
Keeping a record of my pressure was even more challenging. If you’ve ever tried to take your own reading with a cuff and stethoscope, you know what I mean. I wasn’t sure if I was getting accurate readings or not, and they were all over the place. A nurse friend of mine took it for me periodically and the readings were still a bit high.
But I had confidence in my new diet, despite the fact that hypertension was rampant on both sides of my gene pool. I returned to the doctor after about a month. When he took the cuff off my arm he had bad news: the BP was even higher than the last time I was there. Medication was in order. He told me that the new theory on hypertension was to treat it early to keep it from doing any damage to the arteries. I was crushed, but took the samples home and started the meds.
It took a change to another pill and about two months to get things under control. The blood pressure responded and stayed in a good range. I got better at taking the readings. I was fortunate to have something that was treatable. And there was that one bonus: I no longer had to be stringently careful about what I ate. I could eat regular bread and an occasional chip. I felt a certain relief.
I would always try to make lifestyle changes before taking medication, but I now know that they don’t always work. Sometimes, through no fault of your own, you have what you have. And we are lucky to live in a modern medical age, where we have options.