One day, at 7:00 am in the morning, I got a call from the nurse that the blood pressure (BP) of one of my patients was uncontrollable. It was 200/110. Oh, my God! That’s high. As many of you may already know, high BP can lead to stroke, heart attack, and other devastating health problems. “Let’s give him some extra medications intravenously,” I told the nurse. The patient was admitted to the hospital, and for the next two days, we tried various methods to control his BP, but it wouldn’t come down easily. We had to almost double the number of medications he was taking before we finally got his BP controlled. I said to myself, “There must be a reason why his BP shot up so high. Let me see what’s going on. Something must be going on here.” So, I sat next to the patient and asked him, “Have you been taking all your BP meds at home?” He replied, “Yes, I have been taking them regularly. I don’t miss a single pill.” “Have you been taking a lot of salt in your diet?” I asked. “Not at all. In fact, I have cut down the amount of salt I take significantly over the past few months,” he replied.
I was puzzled. Noncompliance with diet and not taking medications are two common reasons for uncontrollable BP in patients with hypertension. I thought to myself, “Then, what would have caused his BP to go up?” I asked him, “Tell me what’s going on in your life. Have you been stressed lately?” And that made him really open up! He immediately said, “You bet. I am so stressed! This Trump thing is killing me. Every time I watch TV, my BP shoots up sky high. I am so stressed about all this election stuff.” Then I said, “The election is over. What’s stressing you about it now?”
He replied, “Well, I want to get over it and come to terms and accept our new president, but our media won’t let it go. As soon as you turn on the TV, they constantly discuss how to get rid of him, why he shouldn’t be the president, how to overthrow him, and all the other negative stuff. As much as I want to let it go, the constant focus on this issue by media is making it hard for me to let it go.” I laughed and said, “Why do you watch all that negative news? Why don’t you watch something else on TV?”
He gave a big sigh and replied, “I know. I am trying. But, it’s so hard not to be dragged into the media sensationalism. You are constantly bombarded with all this news, and it’s hard to avoid it. If not TV, it’s there in newspapers. If not newspaper, it’s there on social media and our phones. My iPhone constantly sends me these stupid news reminders. I should disable it. I am going to try not to take in all this negative information. I know that’s not good for me and my health.”
At that point, I gave my patient some relaxation exercises and tips on how to get over election stress, and soon his BP came down. I cut his medications in half. That’s the power of addressing the root cause of any problem. In this case, it was stress. Once my patient’s stress levels decreased, there was no difficulty in decreasing his BP.
High BP is not the only way your body exhibits stress; your overall health can also deteriorate. Stress is associated with the six leading causes of death in the United States: heart disease, cancer, lung disease, stroke, suicide, and accidents. Stress leads to rapid aging. Stress makes you prone to addictions. Stress degrades your immune system and thus makes you susceptible to infections. Stress can trigger autoimmune diseases. Poor sleep due to stress can increase the risk of having seizures.
The devastating effects of stress do not stop there. Stress leads to poor relationships, both at work and home. Eventually, this can result in a divorce or a job loss or some other terrible consequence. Stressed people can become depressed and commit suicide. Low self-esteem and loss of self-confidence are other major symptoms in stressed people. Stressed people tend to make more mistakes and thus get themselves and others around them in trouble. The list of all the bad consequences of stress is endless. So, let’s stop here and move on to find solutions to the stresses of life.
The solution to PESD is to disconnect the link between acute and chronic stress. How do you do that? Watch out for my next blog post on Saturday, April 29th, 2017.