Blood pressure–lowering medications are often overprescribed to patients being discharged from the hospital, according to a study from the University of California, San Francisco, published in The BMJ (British Medical Journal).
The study involved 15,000 hypertensive adults (mostly men) ages 65 and older—65 percent of whom had well-controlled hypertension before admission. They were admitted to U.S. Veterans Affairs hospitals for noncardiac conditions including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, or blood clots—conditions that normally don’t require aggressive blood pressure management.
The researchers found that one in seven patients received intensified hypertension treatment upon discharge even if their blood pressure had been well controlled before admission. The patients received intensified treatment in the form of being prescribed one or more new antihypertensive drugs or being prescribed higher dosages of blood pressure drugs they were already taking.
Risks of too much blood pressure medication
While optimal control of blood pressure is desirable, too much antihypertensive medication can have complications, especially in older people. These complications include dizziness, falls (with the possibility of a fracture or brain trauma), and abnormal kidney function that can result in an imbalance of electrolytes. Although it’s common for blood pressure to rise temporarily during a hospital stay, often as a result of acute pain, stress, anxiety, or exposure to a new drug, the researchers found that there was no evidence to suggest a benefit from more intensive therapy.
What you should do
If you are released from the hospital with an increased amount of blood pressure medication, ask the hospital doctors why your meds are being adjusted. After discharge, check in with your primary care physician and ask him or her to assess all medications prescribed during a hospital stay to make sure they’re still appropriate.
This article first appeared in the December 2018 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.
Also see Foods That Lower Blood Pressure.