When is blood pressure too high?

High blood pressure is not a common cause of chronic headaches. The pressure has to suddenly increase (from say 100/70 to 150/90) or to be very high (like 170/110, or higher) to cause a headache. Mild hypertension is called a silent killer because it does not cause headaches or any other symptoms for many years. Doctors have been debating for a long time what to consider normal blood pressure. A study by University of California researchers just published in Neurology looked at 12 previous studies that involved over half a million people. They determined that what was considered normal blood pressure in the past (130-139 systolic and 85 to 89 diastolic, sometimes called “prehypertension”) in fact is associated with a significant increase in the risk of strokes. This has a practical application in people suffering from migraine headaches. One of the three categories of drugs used for preventive treatment of migraines is drugs used to treat high blood pressure. So, someone with blood pressure is 130/85 may want to request that the doctor prescribes a blood pressure medication rather than a drug from two other categories – epilepsy drugs (Topamax, Depakote, Neurontin) or antidepressants (Elavil, Pamelor, Effexor, Cymbalta, etc). Fortunately, in most cases blood pressure medications tend to have fewer side effects than drugs in the other two categories. Some of the blood pressure medications that have been shown to be effective for the prevention of migraines are beta blockers, such as propanolol (Inderal), timolol (Blocadren), atenolol (Tenormin), nebivolol (Bystolic), and ACE receptor blockers (ARBs), such as candesartan (Atacand) although other ARBs, such as olmesartan (Benicar) may be also effective. Not all blood pressure drugs are equally effective for the prevention of migraine headaches. Calcium channel blockers, such as verapamil (Calan) and amlodipine (Norvasc) and diuretics are probably less effective.

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