A word on hypertension: It’s not just a women’s problem anymore.
Nearly 25% of American adults have blood pressure above 140/90mmHg, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. That’s the general level of the condition, called hypertension.
But while about the same number of men have the condition, the rate for women has gone up since 2010, according to a new CDC report released Tuesday. And more than half of those who have hypertension are taking diuretics to bring their blood pressure down.
Dry mouth is just one of the problems diuretics cause. The overuse of diuretics has a domino effect on blood pressure: It raises the numbers when taken on their own, it makes people more likely to take more diuretics, and it can overwhelm the kidneys.
Many patients have positive blood pressure readings when they take diuretics because their kidneys don’t get enough fluid, said Dr. George Waterman, president of the American College of Cardiology. “When the kidneys are overloaded, there’s blood pressure rise.”
Diuretics have a dramatic effect on the kidneys and water retention. “Your kidney function goes into shock,” Waterman said. It doesn’t take long to cause dangerous kidney damage.
“There’s a lot of talk about kidney failure,” he said.
One of the side effects of diuretics is high blood pressure. It’s hard to tell how quickly diuretics affect blood pressure, but they can wear off after a few days or weeks, experts say.
It’s an important condition to monitor: It raises the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney failure. On top of that, it raises the chances of surviving cancer.
Most of those with hypertension take two drugs: ACE inhibitors (bone-healing medications) and angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (antihypertensives).
In fact, 37% of those with hypertension on these medicines are taking two drugs, according to the new report.
Diuretics are prescribed more frequently to prevent kidney damage, so you have to be careful when weighing the risks and benefits of a therapy. Doctors say a healthy diet and exercises are the best ways to lower blood pressure.
The key to blood pressure control, Waterman said, is to change a person’s lifestyle to improve how much salt they take in and how often they exercise.
To avoid the negative side effects of diuretics, people are encouraged to not take them too frequently. Also, they must be taking them on their own.
Because diuretics are so commonly prescribed, most physicians know it well, Waterman said. “Doctors are very aware of these side effects,” he said.
“Patients may be surprised to learn diuretics have such an effect on the kidneys,” the CDC experts wrote in the report. “Diuretics are metabolized from central secretory cells to placental and luteinizing hormone cells that control fluid absorption and treat inflammation, weakness, fluid retention, and sweating and help increase blood pressure.”
The CDC experts call the use of diuretics by patients with hypertension an “emerging challenge.” They are using much less of them than they did 15 years ago. They plan to continue to follow the trend.