Effective blood pressure control is an important goal for diabetic patients. The dangers of high blood pressure in diabetics are so serious that some studies have suggested that well-controlled blood pressure in diabetic patients makes a more powerful impact on long-term health (quality of life, number of complications, ultimate lifespan) than does tight blood sugar control. While that doesn’t mean you should ignore your blood sugar goals, it does reinforce the idea that controlling blood pressure is an essential goal.
In the setting of diabetes, the target blood pressure is <130/80. The topic of target blood pressures has been well-researched, and several large studies have consistently shown that significant improvements in long term cardiovascular and kidney health do not become apparent until blood pressure is reduced to this level. For this reason, doctors tend to be very aggressive when devising treatment plans for diabetic patients.
Some studies have suggested that certain groups of diabetic patients -- like those with preexisting kidney problems -- benefit most from blood pressures less than 120/80. Data has shown that the risk of cardiovascular problems and further kidney damage approach their lowest measurable values within this range. Because it is difficult to reduce blood pressure to this level, it is a recommendation usually reserved only for specific patients.
The official guidelines of both the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association state that blood pressures in the range of 130-139/80-89 should first be treated with “non-pharmacologic” (no medicine) options. These options include:
Drug therapy is a necessary step for most patients at some point during treatment. Vast amounts of research have been done in an effort to determine which drug or drug combination is the “best” for treating high blood pressure in patients with diabetes. Though study results vary slightly, there is a near universal consensus that the best drugs to use in the setting of diabetes are:volume expansion, blood vessel stiffness, and kidney damage. Though some doctors initially begin therapy by trying a diuretic on its own, it is more common to begin with an ACE Inhibitor. Ultimately, some ACE Inhibitor / ARB combination is usually the treatment of choice, with a diuretic added if needed. Though this is the most common type of drug treatment, other drugs may be included depending on specific patient factors.
If your doctor chooses to start therapy with a diuretic, be aware that this is not a bad choice, and there is evidence to support this decision in certain types of patients. It will be clear very quickly whether the treatment is working or not, and adjustments will be made if necessary.
Whatever the specific treatment being administered, proper follow up care is essential to managing the long term success of your therapy. In the beginning, you’ll likely see your doctor monthly, or even bi-weekly, until an effective plan is in place. Then, many doctors will ask you to come back every three months for the first year. This close follow up is used to track changes in blood pressure and establish a baseline for certain physical parameters like electrolyte levels (potassium and sodium in the blood) and kidney function.
After the first year, your doctor may choose to switch to six month appointments, or might want you to continue on the three-month schedule. If you are asked to continue the three month schedule, this is not a cause for alarm, it just means that more time is needed to ensure that everything is going as planned. A growing number of doctors are asking all diabetic patients with high blood pressure to come in every three months. Keeping these appointments is important. Treatment is most effective when paired with a schedule of proper follow-up care.
- Hypertension & Diabetes: An Overview
- Why Diabetes & Hypertension Occur Together
- Hypertension Prevention Strategies for Diabetics
- How Diabetes and Hypertension Make Each Other Worse