When faced with any health challenge, if given a choice, most of us would prefer a quick fix to the slow work of making lifestyle changes and seeing gradual improvements over time. Nevertheless -- as with most health conditions -- there is no quick fix or magic bullet that allows people to lower their blood pressure fast. You can use a few quick strategies to make sure you get the most accurate reading, and not a falsely high one. But in general, lowering your blood pressure involves a marathon and not a sprint.
If you know your blood pressure is going to be measured in the near future, and you want the most accurate reading possible -- and not a misleadingly high reading -- there are a few things you can do. Caffeine and tobacco both raise blood pressure, so you can avoid using those for at least half an hour before the test. Exercise and stress tend to raise blood pressure too, so you don't want your blood pressure measured after you're running late and literally racing in to your doctor's office. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends sitting for five minutes before having your blood pressure measured -- the NHLBI also recommends emptying your bladder beforehand for the most accurate reading. (ref 1)
White Coat Hypertension
A few people have what's called "white coat hypertension," meaning that the stress of going into a medical office is enough to give them a falsely high blood pressure reading. There is a quick fix for that: many people choose to monitor their blood pressure at home or in a less stressful setting, which gives lower and more accurate readings. If you suspect that you might suffer from white coat hypertension, you can talk to your doctor about alternative ways to monitor your blood pressure appropriately. (ref 4)
Lifestyle changes require long-term effort, but many people find that they can keep their blood pressure below 140/90 by taking the five-pronged approach to blood pressure control: quitting smoking; following a healthy diet; getting regular exercise; keeping their weight under control; and learning healthy ways of dealing with stress. It's important to team up with your doctor, however, to learn what these five goals mean for you. For example, a "healthy" diet will mean different things depending on a person's health, age, or other medical conditions. Likewise, an appropriate exercise plan will be different for a young adult with no heart disease compared to an older adult who's recently had a heart attack. (ref 3)
When lifestyle changes aren't enough to control your blood pressure, your doctor might recommend blood pressure medication. Several different classes of drugs can be used to lower blood pressure, but if your doctor prescribes one, she will explain how it works and which side effects to watch out for. Some medications work by decreasing the amount of fluid in your system -- with less fluid in your blood vessels, there's less pressure on them. Others work by decreasing the wear and tear on your blood vessels more directly, such as by relaxing the blood vessels or slowing down your heart rate.
- NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: How Is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed?
- NIH MedlinePlus: Blood Pressure Numbers: What They Mean
- NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: How Is High Blood Pressure Treated?
- MedlinePlus: Blood Pressure Measurement
- NPR: If Slow Is Good for Food, Why Not Medicine?