Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hypertension 9: Western Medications vs. Chinese Herbs

In terms of the medications, what are the differences between mainstream Western medical treatment for Hypertension and the “alternative” Chinese treatment?

Western prescription medications are easy to take: just pop 'em like cheeseburgers, onion rings & a coke.

Herbs? Initially they came in a variety of small packets. I opened each packet and dumped the contents into a cup, then added hot water to the contents, stirred and drank.

The Chinese medications were changed regularly, depending on my reactions. The prescription medications were changed after I set up an appointment with my doctor to tell him I was concerned about the negative side effects—often after taking the prescription medications for two months.

Prescription meds worked just like anything Western: blunt, unsubtle, direct—like a hammer to the head. But they worked. Each brought my blood pressure down.

Side Note: actually I did not take my blood pressure every day, as I did with the Chinese treatments. So, who knew what the actual impact of the prescription meds were? During the Western treatment, I took my bp two or three times a week, in the mornings, using one of those semi-accurate blood pressure machines in the local drug store. After starting the Chinese treatment, the Chinese Medical Doctor took the readings herself three times a week. I continued to take readings two or three times a week at the drug store, in the mornings.

My blood pressure was generally higher in the mornings—155 or so--and then dropped by the end of the day (when the CMD would take it). I did not take my own readings more frequently while taking the prescription medications because I wanted to avoid becoming “overmedicalized”. Some people become obsessed with their Hypertension, taking readings all day long. I did not want my condition to dominate my life. A good Western Boy, I wanted to pop a pill and forget about it. Or, drink some tea.

The Western pills worked from the waist up, the herbs from the waist down. The Western meds’ negative side effects were generally all in my head (memory, energy, focus). With the Chinese treatments, the negative effects were more below the waist: I pooped a lot, which left me, well, pooped…at times, I had cramps. It was more work, in its way, to continually adjust to the regularly changing herbs than it was to the less frequently changed prescription medications.

In both situations I was a guinea pig. Each medication had to be tried on me to see its impact. There was no way to know in advance how either treatment would affect me. Until we reach that future promised us by Walt Disney on his tv show in the 1950's (I am STILL waiting for my rocket boots, Walt!), medications remain a crap shoot (with the herbs, quite literally). Everyone is different, everyone reacts differently. You only know what impact the medications will have after you have taken them.

As a patient, I still had no real control.

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