This will come as no surprise to anyone, but most people don’t like taking blood pressure medication. Thankfully, thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money was not spent finding that out. But the statistics do make you stop and think…

 

There was a study done at a GP surgery in the UK, asking patients what their experience of blood pressure medication was. Here are the headline figures:

  • 4 out of 5 people said they had reservations about taking medication for high blood pressure.
  • Over 1 in 3 people said they had experienced side effects from blood pressure lowering medication.
  • Over 1 in 3 people were concerned about harm from the use of long-term medication.
  • Over 1 in 3 people wondered if they still really needed their blood pressure lowering medication.
  • 2 out of 3 people would prefer non-drug therapy to treat their high blood pressure.

I suspect you can relate to those figures. They certainly reflect our experience as doctors and from running our Blood Pressure Questions Answered Facebook group.

To make this even more depressing, that study was published in 2003. That’s 15 years ago. And what has changed in that time? In my opinion, absolutely nothing.

 

Making it better

What can be done to improve this situation? Surely it isn’t acceptable to have such a large number of people taking medication that they are unhappy with (there are about 14 million people in the UK with high blood pressure so that’s lots of people taking pills who don’t want to).

We believe that a first step is to start to offer people the chance to take back some control over their blood pressure and its treatment. It is very reasonable to ask ‘do I still need these pills?’ or ‘Are these pills causing me side effects?’ or ‘am I taking too many pills?’. We know doctors often struggle to find time to consider reducing medication, but could patients help out themselves? We think so.

 

Measure it yourself

The first step to begin to take back control of your blood pressure is to have an accurate way to measure it yourself at home. That would then allow you to measure it yourself and use those measurements to discuss treatment with your doctor. This also avoids the problem of getting artificially high clinic readings as people are rarely relaxed with the doctor! One of the best ways to do this is by taking 7 days of blood pressure readings at home. We have previously written how to do this here and will be releasing a mobile app in the next few weeks to help you do that (it will also produce a report for your doctor).

Once people have taken back control of measuring their blood pressure accurately, we expect some will find they don’t need as many medications as they thought they did. That will start to improve the situation.

And those that do still need medication will at least feel confident that they know they are taking it for a good purpose. Having ownership over treatment like that is known to help reduce side effects.

 

Next steps

So, there is further to go, but we hope that the ability to get an accurate home blood pressure measurement will start to put some of the power back in patients’ hands. And some people are likely to find that they don’t need as much medication as they thought. The next step will be more choice over treatment, but one step at a time!

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