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In her own words: living with hypertension
As told to Jennifer Hellwig, MS, RD
Ellen is a 59-year-old medical technician from Massachusetts. She has been managing hypertension for nine years.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
I’ve never had any symptoms of high blood pressure. But I’ve always been very prudent about getting regular medical checkups and having my blood pressure checked, because I have a strong family history of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. During my late 40s, my blood pressure started to go up a little, so I started to monitor it fairly regular and, indeed, it became what they called “borderline” high blood pressure.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
When I was 50, my primary doctor became concerned about my blood pressure going up. It was never extremely high—the highest reading I remember is 165/90—but because of my family history and because I’m overweight and high-strung, my doctor and I decided I should take medication.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?
I was very afraid, because everyone in my family has had high blood pressure. My parents and grandparents all died of cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke or heart attack, in their 60s and 70s. I was also sad when I found out I had it and realized I would probably have to take medication for the rest of my life. Around the same time, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which also requires lifelong medication.
How do you manage your condition?
I take a medication called Zestril, which I’ve taken for about the last 8 years. It works extremely well at controlling my blood pressure and I don’t have any side effects from it. While on the Zestril, my blood pressure has remained steady at around 130/70.
Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to your illness?
I’m constantly trying to lose weight, because I know that if I wasn’t overweight I might not have to take medication. I exercise and I’m very careful about limiting the sodium in my diet and I never cook with salt. And, on and off over the years, I’ve practiced meditation to try to reduce stress and control my emotions, which have a big impact on my blood pressure.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
For me it was mostly just a matter of staying educated about my condition and being proactive about treating and managing it. My support comes mostly from within. I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about it anymore.
Has your condition had any impact on your family?
No. My kids were grown and out of the house by the time I was diagnosed and it doesn’t really have much impact on my husband. He’s a health nut, so eating a low-salt diet doesn’t bother him.
What advice would you give to anyone living with this disease?
I recommend following your doctor’s advice, taking medications as prescribed, eating right, exercising, and minimizing stress. The best advice for people is probably to try to prevent it altogether. It’s possible—I could have escaped this, had I maintained a healthy weight and not let stress affect me as much.
Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.