doctor taking an older woman's blood pressureHalf of the American adult population will develop high blood pressure during their lifetime, with age and lifestyle habits playing a factor. Unfortunately, high blood pressure does not often display discernible symptoms and has earned a reputation as the “silent killer”.

When high blood pressure is detected at a doctor’s appointment, lifestyle changes and medications may be recommended to help manage the condition. Two increases in a row may require the patient to start monitoring blood pressure at different times of the day.

If ignored, high blood pressure can become the precursor to a stroke, vision issues, kidney failure or heart disease. To anticipate these risks, older adults should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year to detect any issues.

Understanding High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure measures the force at which blood pushes against the artery walls. A blood pressure reading has two numbers: Systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

The former refers to the pressure created by your heart’s motion to pump blood, so it can circulate throughout the body, and the latter refers to your heart muscle when it relaxes and fills with blood. The ideal blood pressure reading is 120/80.

Blood pressure does not remain consistent throughout the day. It reaches its lowest point when you relax or sleep and elevates during periods of physicality, anxiety or excitement. Patients who have consistently high readings are considered to be in the “prehypertension” range, with a stronger risk of developing high blood pressure. Those living with conditions like diabetes or chronic kidney disease also have a higher likelihood of high blood pressure.

Monitoring High Blood Pressure In the Elderly

While the range for high blood pressure used to be 140/90, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recently lowered their guidelines to 130/80.

For older adults, monitoring high blood pressure can be more complex than a simple reading:

  • Current health conditions and fitness levels may be taken into account when monitoring your blood pressure and recommending a treatment plan.
  • A condition called isolated systolic hypertension may be present, when the systolic number is elevated and the diastolic number may be lower. It can contribute to heart disease, kidney failure, vision issues and strokes. Due to these risks, you may be prescribed two blood pressure medications to manage the condition.

Due to the number of health issues older adults face, the medical community disagrees on what constitutes high blood pressure in the elderly. In 2015, the Eighth Joint National Committee (JNC 8) established a benchmark of 150/90 for adults over age 60. However, for patients living with chronic kidney disease and diabetes, this limit is lowered to 140/90.

The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recently lowered their high blood pressure guidelines from 140/90 to 130/80. Both organizations recommend adults over 65 with an average systolic blood pressure over 130 should begin medication to lower that number. The exception is those with comorbidities, whose conditions should be approached on a case-by-case basis and given a more personalized treatment plan.

Several aspects can increase a senior’s risk for developing high blood pressure. Men have a higher risk after age 55 and women once they reach menopause. Additional factors include:

  • Diet, including too much salt consumption and not enough potassium
  • Race, with African Americans experiencing a greater risk
  • Family history
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Long-term stress
  • A history of smoking
  • Using certain medications
  • Not being physically active
  • Drinking alcohol too frequently

The development of high blood pressure in the elderly can lead to the following:

  • Higher heart attack and stroke risk
  • Kidney issues
  • Heart enlargement and failure
  • Aneurysm
  • Narrowing of the blood vessels
  • Bursting blood vessels

Lifestyle Changes

Before age 65, adults are recommended to implement the following lifestyle changes to reduce their risks of developing high blood pressure:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day
  • Eating a diet of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and limited salt
  • Consuming less alcohol
  • Quitting smoking
  • Getting enough sleep each night and being tested for sleep apnea
  • Finding healthy ways to reduce stress

West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center has an extensively trained medical and nursing staff. To learn more about our services and approach to care, contact us today.