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Easy tricks for remembering to take your blood pressure medications
From high-tech pill boxes to old-school index cards, there are plenty of clever ways to stay on track.
It’s easy to forget a dose of your blood pressure pills, especially if you take several medications at different times of the day. But taking all your medications consistently is the best way to keep high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) from damaging your health.
High blood pressure is a big problem in the U.S. — nearly half of all American adults have it. More alarming: Most people with hypertension don’t keep it under control even when they take medications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What is high blood pressure anyway?
When the heart pumps out blood, it pushes against the walls of the arteries. These are blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body. That force is known as your blood pressure.
When doctors measure blood pressure, they use two numbers — for example, 115 over 70 (written as 115/70). If the top number is 120 or higher, your blood pressure is elevated, according to the American Heart Association. If your top number is consistently 130 or higher, many doctors will diagnose you with high blood pressure.
Over time, the force of the blood changes the structure of the heart and blood vessels, explains Nicole Weinberg, MD. She’s a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “You get thickening, you get scarring and calcium deposits. And ultimately, the blood vessel itself starts to get very fragile. So there can be tears and dilations.”
That damage raises your risk of a stroke, an aneurysm or a heart attack. The thickening of blood vessels can also restrict blood flow, which means oxygen can’t get to the brain, kidneys or other organs.
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How blood pressure medications help
Exercise, a healthy diet and managing stress can help lower your blood pressure. But to really get your numbers down, you may need to take a prescription medication. The common types of blood pressure medications include:
- ACE inhibitors
- Beta blockers
These drugs work slightly differently to lower blood pressure. Some help the kidneys flush out extra water and salt and lower the volume of fluid in your system. Others relax and open the blood vessels so there’s less force against the walls.
Your doctor may prescribe 1 or 2 of these medications. The most important thing is to take them every day. Here’s why: “A lot of blood pressure medications, unfortunately, don’t have a really long half-life — the drug doesn’t stay in your system for a long time,” explains Dr. Weinberg. After 24 hours, and sometimes even 12 hours, the drug is out of your system, she explains. “Then you’re kind of driving without a seat belt.”
Taking extra doses to make up for the ones you missed won’t work either. “It's going to get the drug into your system, but it’s not necessarily going to make up for the one that you forgot,” Dr. Weinberg notes.
Easy ways to remember to take your medications
To stay on track with your blood pressure meds, you need to find a system that works for you. Try a few of these creative ideas from doctors and pharmacists. Hopefully, you’ll never forget a dose again.
Get a pill organizer. Yes, you’ve heard it before. But these handy plastic containers really do keep you organized. They have separate compartments labeled for each day of the week and even time of day — “a.m.” and “p.m.,” or even “Morning,” “Noon” and “Night.” You can tell just by looking if you’ve taken your pills.
You can even buy a container that has a reminder alarm if you’re still forgetting your doses. Pro tip: Get in the habit of filling your organizer on Sundays so you’re set for the week.
Ask for pill packets. Your pharmacy may be able to put your medications in one pack marked by the day or the time. “This way you’re not in a situation where you’re like, ‘Did I take my pills today?’” says Dr. Weinberg.
Flip the bottle over. If you prefer using the original pill containers, try this simple trick. Line up the medications you need to take on your kitchen counter. Then turn each bottle upside down after you’ve taken that day’s dose, advises pharmacist John Peana, RPh. He’s the director of pharmacy services at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City. At the end of the day, flip the bottles back over so they’re ready for the next day.
Connect medications with another daily routine. It could be brushing your teeth or drinking your first cup of coffee. Keep the pill box nearby — on a shelf near the bathroom or next to the coffee maker, for instance. “Just associating it with something else will train your mind to piggyback that onto it,” Peana says.
Set up smartphone reminders. If your phone is always by your side, put it to good use. Set a recurring daily alarm and reminder to take your pills. “For people who have really busy lives, that can be very helpful,” notes Dr. Weinberg. There are even apps that keep track of all your medications and when to take and refill them. According to a 2021 study in BMJ Open, apps can actually increase medication adherence and improve your health. It’s likely because they remind you to take your medications regularly.
Keep score yourself. Not really tech-savvy? Get a weekly calendar or use a dry-erase board to make a checklist. “I like index cards,” says Peana. Write the days of the week and the medications you take on the card. Every time you take the drug, you check off the day and time.
Tape the card or calendar to the refrigerator or close to wherever you keep your pill container. You can also use an index card to record all the medications you take. This is helpful for review at your doctor’s visits or if you have to make an unexpected trip to the ER, says Peana. Keep the card in your wallet or snap a photo of it with your phone.
Ask the pharmacist to streamline refills. Instead of picking up the refill for the diuretic first, the beta blocker the following week and the ACE inhibitor at the end of the month, ask the pharmacist to refill all 3 medications on the same day, suggests Peana. “So once a month, or once every 90 days, you pick up all your refills. It’s called medication synchronization and that really helps a lot with compliance and reduced trips to the pharmacy,” he explains.
In fact, a 2018 study in U.S. Pharmacist found that automatic refills and 90-day prescriptions helped people take their medications more consistently. It also helps if you go to the same pharmacy. “They know you as a customer, so if you have a need, they’ll work with you,” says Peana. That’s helpful if you require a last-minute refill. They’ll also have your complete medication profile, which improves safety since they can check for potential drug interactions.
Know yourself. “Take a few minutes to think about the type of person you are, what methods will benefit you the most and how best to remember to take your pills,” suggests Dr. Weinberg. If you’re routine-driven, all you might need is the pill container on the kitchen table. Smartphone reminders may work better if you’re juggling work with kids, and your mornings are hectic.
Remember, taking your blood pressure medications every day is the best thing you can do for your long-term health. So figure out what strategy works best and stick to it.
Whether you have a new prescription or need a refill, The Optum Store can help you save on your blood pressure medication — and have it shipped right to your door.
High blood pressure statistics: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Million Hearts (2021). “Estimated Hypertension Prevalence, Treatment, and Control Among U.S. Adults”
Blood pressure numbers: American Heart Association (2022). “Understanding Blood Pressure Readings”
Smartphone reminders: BMJ Open (2021). “Effect of a smartphone application (Perx) on medication adherence and clinical outcomes: a 12-month randomised controlled trial”
Automatic refills: U.S. Pharmacist (2018). Medication Adherence: The Elephant in the Room