Most people start off well enough when it comes to taking their blood pressure–lowering pills, but many end up straying off course. Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?
• You begin to lose interest in the pills, forgetting to take them for days at a time.
• You skip a dose here or there.
• You take a higher or lower dose than your doctor instructed.
It is important to understand that with each of those drug lapses, you may be putting your health at risk, increasing your chances of experiencing a heart attack or stroke or developing kidney or eye disease.
Your doctor has probably told you that it is extremely important to take your blood pressure medicine exactly as prescribed, and he or she is right. Following your doctor’s instructions to the letter will help you effectively manage your blood pressure levels and reduce your risk of hypertension complications and drug side effects.
Ask your doctor questions
Before leaving your doctor’s office, make sure you know the answers to the following questions about your blood pressure medication:
• What drug(s) has the doctor prescribed?
• Why does the doctor want you to take that medication?
• How often should you take the drug and in what dose? Were the doses of any of your medications changed?
• What time of day should you take the medication?
• How should you store the medication? Can it be kept at room temperature? Can it be exposed to light?
• Are there any precautions you should keep in mind? For example, should the pills always be taken with meals? Should you avoid certain foods or alcohol when taking the medication? Are there any medications (prescription or nonprescription) or nutritional supplements (vitamins or herbal products) that you should avoid or use with caution?
• What possible side effects may occur, and how should you respond to them? What side effects are serious enough to warrant a call to the doctor? Do any of the side effects diminish with time?
Bring a notepad to your doctor appointment to jot down the answers. You can also ask a friend or family member to come along and take notes.
Don’t hesitate to call your doctor if any of those questions remain unanswered. Also, the pharmacist who fills the prescription may be able to answer some of them.
Tips for remembering blood pressure medicine
Your blood pressure pills are likely not the only medication you are on, and it can be difficult to keep all of your drug regimens straight. Following are some tips to help ensure you’re taking your drugs when you should:
• Ask your doctor about fixed-dose combination drugs. These are drugs that come two or three to a pill, so instead of having to take two or three medications separately, you only have to take a single pill. Also inquire about extended-release formulations of your medications, as these need to be taken only once a day.
• Use a weekly (or monthly) pill organizer. Such a pillbox not only can help you sort out the medications you need to take, but also enables you to check whether you’ve already taken a dose. Electronic pillboxes make a beeping sound when it’s time for your medication.
• Keep your pills in the same place. If you always know where your pills are, you are less likely to lose them or miss a dose.
• Set your cell phone, watch, or alarm clock to alert you to take your medication. Or leave a sticky note on the refrigerator door or bathroom mirror—or anywhere else you’re likely to see it—to remind you to take your pills.
• Take your blood pressure pills at the same time each day, and at the same time as an everyday activity (for example, brushing your teeth). This will help make taking the drug a part of your daily routine.
• Each time you take a medication, write it down in a log or on a calendar, including the date and time that you took it.
Because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms, you may be finding it difficult to take your blood pressure–lowering pills day in and day out. You may be thinking, “Why should I keep taking medication if I’m feeling fine?”
But hypertension is called the “silent killer” for a reason: It quietly wreaks havoc on your body, until you suffer a heart attack, a stroke, or some other illness. If knowing this isn’t enough to motivate you to take your pills as directed, try one or more of the following strategies:
• Purchase a home blood pressure monitor to track your progress. Seeing your blood pressure drop as you continue to take your medication is motivating for many people.
• Ask a close friend or family member to give you a call once a day to remind you to take your medication and how important it is to your health.
• Along with that sticky note on the refrigerator or mirror, post pictures of your grandchildren and/or other loved ones to remind you that keeping your blood pressure under control will help you live a long life, giving you more time with them.
• Reward yourself for lowering your blood pressure to a new level and keeping it there for a month or two. Purchase tickets to a play or the opera, plan a vacation, or go out to your favorite restaurant.
Important blood pressure medicine reminders
• If you forget to take your medicine, don’t “double up” with an extra dose to make up for the lapse. Instead, just take your next scheduled dose.
• When you travel, make sure to pack an adequate supply of pills in your carry-on luggage, purse, or briefcase in case any checked luggage gets lost. Also, bring some extra pills with you in case your return home is delayed.
• Never stop taking your blood pressure medication (or adjust its dose) on your own without first discussing it with your physician. Doing so can cause a dangerous spike in your blood pressure. Also, do not take a smaller dose than prescribed or skip a dose in order to make your medicine last longer.
Tell your doctor if you’re having trouble sticking to or paying for your drug regimen. He or she may have some suggestions. Also, be sure to refill your prescription with plenty of time to spare so you don’t run out of pills.