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Like to know best plans to lower BP and consequences of quitting beta blocker

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General & Family Physician
Practicing since : 1968
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Hi there -

40 year old male, 6 feet (183cm), 192lbs (87kg), former competitive athlete. I'd like to quit a beta blocker I'm on, but I'm concerned about the consequences, and would like to inquire about your best plan / steps / list for lowering BP without pharmaceutical drugs. Here's the full story.

Blood pressure has been inching up the past couple of years, and recently (last 2 months) have been diagnosed with severe anxiety (primary issue). The BP was 150s/100s consistently throughout the day, and higher during panic attacks. There is apparently nothing else wrong w/ me as per 2 x blood tests, 2 x urine tests, 2 x EKGs, chest x-rays, abdominal ultrasound, manual exams and more. It's all coming out normal, electrolytes, thyroid, liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, even cholesterol. The only things found are a deficiency of vitamin D and magnesium in the blood, which are now supplemented. It's hard to believe, but apparently all the fatigue, heart palpitations, hyperawareness of the heart orthostatically and in different positions, lingering upper respirotary infections and overall feeling of un-wellness is caused by the stress, anxiety and BP.

I'm getting the anxiety under control by using CBT therapy, some lifestyle changes and some supplements (theanine, gaba, inositol and taurine) without the use of anxiolytics or SSRIs. I took ativan, klonopin and lexapro, each for a couple of days only, and I seem to be super-sensitive to meditation b/c I already had withdrawal symptoms and worsening of anxiety when getting off. So no pharma for me for anxiety. The theanine/gaba/inositol/taurine seem to be working ok, though it's not a benzo, at least I won't get addicted. Side note: what do you think about niacin as visodilator, picamilon (combo gaba/niacin that crosses the blood/brain barrier) and valerian for supplemental treatment of anxiety?

But I am currently taking medication for the high BP -- metoprolol (toprol XL), 25 mg, once a day, extended release. The beta blocker was prescribed strictly for the BP, not for anxiety or any heart condition. Although this is a very low dose, it's already taken my BP from a consistent 150s/100s reading to a consistent 120s/80s reading in the morning, and 110s/70s all the rest of the day, in the only 30 days I've taken the beta blocker. My pulse is down to 50s, sitting down. The trouble is, during the same 30 days, I've done several other things which also lower BP, so there's no way to tell how much of it is due to the beta blocker alone.

I started walking fast (120bpm) 7-8 miles at a time multiple times a week, which reduces blood pressure. At the same time, I saw a naturopathic doctor. He theorized that my BP has been up due to a combination of chronic stress turning into a severe GAD w/ panic and insulin resistance (IR). I've been skipping meals for years, and eating 1-2 heavier meals/day. And though I've turned vegan 6 months ago, the vegan meals w/ plant-based carbs in them still cause a spike in blood sugar after long periods of not eating. The ND argues that I'm hypoglycemic throughout much of the day but have trained my body to not complain, and have developed IR. The magnesium deficiency in the blood shows insulin is not storing magnesium, and hence higher BP. Also, IR causes sodium retention, excessive uric acid, etc. -- all lead to higher BP. So as a natural treatment, I started megadosing (10-15grams/day) Omega 3 supplements, magnesium glycinate (1000-1600mg/day), vitamin C as dissolved ascorbic acid crystals (up to 10 grams/day), cut all processed sugar from diet, limited fructose to 15grams/day, and reduced grain intake, all of which should increase insulin sensitivity and lower BP, so I have no way of knowing how much the BP went down due to the beta blocker and how much due to the supplements, exercise and diet changes. I'd like to quit the beta blocker, but I'm concerned about a rebound.

I strongly dislike pharmaceutical drugs and see them as last resort. Beta blockers are no longer prescribed in the UK and in multiple European countries for BP alone, and have been replaced w/ ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics. Not sure what the situation is in India. But here in the US, they give you a knee-jerk beta blocker prescription the moment you have higher BP. Long-term use has been linked to CHF, and even short term, it feels really unnatural to have something slow down and inhibit your heart. It's supposed to make one feel palpitations less, but ironically, b/c the heart wants to beat faster but it can't, it's causing harder contractions and hence greater sensation/feeling of the heart, and that is true while I'm exercising or having an anxiety attack or eating fast or just bending over sometimes. The drug is also giving me every side effect in the book -- very cold hands and feet (sometimes), extreme fatigue when it peaks lasting several hours, difficult to exercise (due to fatigue / weakness and sensation of the heart), and I'm gaining weight for the first time since I turned vegan, after steadily losing weight slowly without even trying due to vegan diet. I think I may be overmedicated even at 25mg/day, and in any event, would like to quit. My PCP is supportive of the idea of quitting, especially b/c I've only been on for a month and he doesn't think my "real" BP is that high without anxiety and white coat effect, but here are my concerns:
- I don't want to have stroke during an anxiety attack (I've measured 180s/110s during panic) until I get the anxiety under control. I know panic attacks are harmless medically, but I'm not sure that BP going to 180s/110s is harmless. I know that power lifters can see 300s/180s momentarily while lifting weights and they don't have strokes or aneurysms, but that's a highly trained athlete. Last thing I need while I'm handling/healing the anxiety is the fear of a real/non-imagined serious medical event during a panic attack. How likely is this scientifically? They say no one ever died, had a heart attack or stroke during a panic attack, unless they already were a heart patient, etc. I'm not a heart patient and I'm apparently pretty healthy otherwise, except for this BP.
- I'm concerned about a strong rebound where the BP gets worse than before taking beta blockers, which apparently happens to some people.

So, questions:
1. How safe is it to quit beta blockers and what's the best way to do it? (Cut pill in half, skip days, wean off over a period of time, etc.)

2. Given the above case history, would you recommend coming off the beta blocker right now? If not, when?

3. If/when I'm off the beta blocker, I'd like to lower and maintain healthy BP without medication, b/c othewise, I'd be simply ignoring it -- doing nothing. Assuming I'm working on the anxiety as outlined, what is your best prescription for lowering BP "naturally", i.e. without drugs? I'm open to nutritional changes, any type of exercise, meditation (re-started my Vipassana practice), supplements and anything else. Additionally, there is an ayurvedic supplement called Carditone, which has herbs (Convolvulus, Arjuna, Tribulis) plus Rauwolfia Serpentina in it, which is the primary substance in Reserpine, a now defunct hypertension drug that used to be the default prescription in the US. A lot of people say Carditone lowered their BP where even beta blockers couldn't. Do you have any experience w/ this ayurvedic supplement and is it safe / effective?

Finally, what can I realistically expect from a drug-free way of lowering BP? Should I give it 1, 3 or 6 months before expecting results and which parts of your plan are most important / would yield the best returns? Many thanks in advance.
Posted Tue, 22 May 2012 in Hypertension and Heart Disease
Answered by Dr. Andrew Rynne MD 55 minutes later

Hi there. Thank you for posting your question. I will do my best to help you.

With respect, your question is far too long-winded. I hope you do not take offence but very few doctors on this forum could take the time to read through it all.

This is what I understand to be your concern:

You have been told that you may be hypertensive and that you may have to go on medication for this. You are wondering if this is really necessary. This is a good question!

If you have a strong family history of hypertension, heart disease and stroke, then maybe you will need some treatment if, and only if, your 24 hour BP monitoring comes back positive.

If you do not have any such family history and your 24 hour BP monitoring is equivocal or OK then forget about any BP medication. In my view, BP treatments are a multi-billion dollar industry and "hypertension" is the most over treated "disease" on this planet.

I hope that I have answered your questions fully and been of some help. If you have anymore questions please contact me again anytime.

Dr Andrew Rynne.

Above answer was peer-reviewed by
Follow-up: Like to know best plans to lower BP and consequences of quitting beta blocker 1 hour later
Hello -

Thank you for your answer. I agree that I'd rather not be treated w/ drugs for hypertension and was asking you about best ways to lower BP _without_ pharmaceutical drugs.

One follow-up question/concern: Though 2 EKGs were 100% normal, and x-ray and manual exam of heart and lungs showed nothing (no murmur, gallop, etc.), I get strong palpitations at certain times, and measure a sizeable rise in systolic pressure only during those palpitations. So, pulse is normal (60s, 70s max), diastolic BP is normal (70s through 80s), but systolic pressure goes to 140 through 160s, and that is felt as a palpitation b/c obviously the heart is contracting a lot harder.

This just happened again now after dinner, after I ate a heavier meal a bit too quickly, so it appears to have nothing to do w/ anxiety. Not feeling anxious at all -- at least not consciously. It happens consistently when I lie on my sides or stomach, when I eat/drink a heavy meal on empty stomach or eat fast, etc. Definitely whenever there is an increase in abdominal or thoracic pressure. Sometimes it appears to happen for no reason at all. I have lost a bunch of weight by switching to a vegan diet but still have kind of distended abdomen b/c belly fat seems to be the last to go in men and b/c I've been really stressed. Also, there is a great deal of gas in the thoracic cavity since I switched diets. Not sure if gas could be causing the palpitations? When I sit up straight (instead of slouching), the systolic pressure goes down as much as 30-35 points orthostatically -- meaning between sitting in bed slouching and sitting upright in a chair and not letting the thorax press on the full abdomen, thus relieving some pressure on the heart. Is this medically significant / reason to worry? The palpitations are v. uncomfortable and I want to make sure there isn't an undiagnosed issue w/ my heart/circulation despite the good EKGs and manual exams. Many thanks.
Answered by Dr. Andrew Rynne MD 9 hours later
Thank you for your follow up question.

A blood pressure (BP) of 160/80 is perfectly normal. This does not even begin to border on hypertension.

Your palpitations are not related to raised BP. They are more likely to be related to anxiety, food or drink and particularly wine or other forms of alcohol.

Cut out caffeine -- tea and coffee and be careful about alcohol, particularly wine and the preservatives therein. Palpitations may be unpleasant things but are rarely life-threatening.

I hope this helps. Thanks.

Andrew Rynne MD
Above answer was peer-reviewed by
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