Causes of High Blood Pressure in the Elderly – The Facts

High blood pressure is common in the elderly and can cause many serious health issues. It’s important to understand the causes of high blood pressure in elderly people, and how you can treat and prevent it.

High Blood Pressure: The Silent Killer

High blood pressure is often called the ‘silent killer’ because it has no symptoms. It can cause a heart attack, heart failure, a stroke, or kidney failure. The only way to know if you have it is to have a doctor check your blood pressure at your annual checkup. You can also do it yourself with a blood pressure monitor.

Your blood pressure measures the force of blood as it pushed against the arterial walls. When your blood pressure is taken, two things are measured. One is your systolic pressure, which is the pressure when your heart is beating.

The other is your diastolic pressure, which is the pressure when your heart is between beats, or at rest. Your blood pressure is expressed  as systolic pressure over diastolic pressure. Healthy blood pressure in most people is 120/80. This is a systolic measurement of 120 and a diastolic measurement of 80.

Blood pressure that is too low can be a concern as well, particularly in older people. Some doctors aim for blood pressure in those over 65 to be maintained at a slightly higher level. Healthy blood pressure in seniors may be 140/90, 150/80 or 150/85.

The following video provides further detail:

If an elderly person has high blood pressure, they can often lower it by making lifestyle changes. A healthy diet, such as the DASH diet, and exercise can help. Elderly people who have mobility issues may be unable to exercise adequately. Medication may be required to reduce their blood pressure. Limiting the amount of salt in the diet can help, as can quitting smoking.

What Causes High Blood Pressure In The Elderly?

There is some disagreement about the causes of high blood pressure in elderly people. Some research seems to indicate that it is caused by the natural thickening of arteries as we age. This makes the heart have to work harder to pump the blood where it needs to go. Systolic high blood pressure is most common for those over age 60.

It is typical for blood pressure to rise as we age, but that does not make it any less dangerous. Blood pressure in elderly people can creep up to a dangerous level. This is why it’s very important to monitor blood pressure in elderly people .

Blood pressure is closely linked to heart health. This makes it very important to maintain a healthy blood pressure level. High blood pressure can lead to chronic kidney disease, stroke, and heart attacks. Elderly people are at high risk for these conditions. Having high blood pressure increases the risk.

There are several chronic conditions that can cause high blood pressure in the elderly. These include diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and kidney disease.

It some cases, it can be difficult to determine the causes of high blood pressure in elderly people. Do you have kidney disease because you have high blood pressure? Or do they have high blood pressure because they have kidney disease? At the end of the day, identifying the cause is relatively unimportant. The key is to treat or manage both conditions and keep blood pressure at a healthy level.

How Can Elderly People Maintain Healthy Blood Pressure Levels?

It is relatively easy to control blood pressure if it is detected early. The first course of treatment should be a change in lifestyle. Here are some changes that elderly people can make to lower blood pressure.

Maintain A Healthy Weight

Obesity is one of the major causes of high blood pressure in elderly people. Ask your doctor what your optimal weight is, given your height, gender, body type, and age. If your weight is over the ideal, ask your doctor about losing weight safely.

Eat Healthy

Your diet should include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. The less processed the food you eat is, the better off you will be. If you are overweight, this will help you lose weight as well. The DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) Diet specifically addresses high blood pressure and is easy to follow.

Exercise Daily

If you have mobility issues that limit your ability to exercise, consult your doctor. Most elderly people can do some form of physical exercise. It’s important to get some exercise every day if possible.

Reduce Salt Intake

Follow two simple rules to cut down on salt. Take the salt shaker off the table. And reduce or cut out processed foods from your diet. There is a lot of salt in processed food since it is a preservative. By eating more natural, unprocessed foods, we can easily reduce the amount of salt we consume.

Don’t Smoke

Elderly people who smoke are at high risk for many diseases. You’re never too old to quit, and quitting will improve your health starting on the very first day.

Reduce Alcohol Consumption

A glass of red wine may be good for you, but too much can indicate a problem.

Limit your drinking to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Ask your doctor if you should limit your drinking further because of any of the medications you take.

Get A Good Night Of Sleep

As we age, our sleep patterns often change. Elderly people still need about seven to nine hours of sleep each night, the same as other adults. Try to keep your sleep schedule regular, rising and going to bed at about the same time each day. Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening. Don’t eat a big meal or have caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime. Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature.

Medication To Lower Blood Pressure

If you change your lifestyle and your blood pressure is still high, see your doctor. They may prescribe medication. Tell your doctor what other medications you are taking. This will ensure there are no harmful interactions. Take the medication as directed. Check your blood pressure often to make sure it stays at a healthy level.

There are several different kinds of blood pressure medications. The most common types of medications include:

  • Diuretics: These water pills will cause you to urinate more frequently. This will flush sodium from your system. They are often used with other medications, sometimes in the same pill.
  • Beta Blockers: These slow your heartbeat. Your heart pumps less blood through your body’s blood vessels. This lowers your blood pressure.
  • ACE Inhibitors: ACE stands for Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme. These medications block the hormone that narrows blood vessels. If your blood vessels are wider, your blood pressure will be lower.
  • Vasodilators: These medicines relax blood vessel wall muscles to lower blood pressure.

Your doctor may prescribe one or more of these medications. They will monitor your blood pressure to make sure it stays within healthy levels. Many medications have side effects. Tell your doctor about any changes since you started the medication.

Keeping Track Of Your Blood Pressure

You can track your blood pressure at home with a personal blood pressure monitor. Most monitors have an adjustable cuff that fits around your upper arm. It attaches to a machine that inflates and deflates it. This captures the data that measures your blood pressure.

Get a monitor that tracks your readings over time. Take your blood pressure as often as your doctor recommends. When you see the doctor, bring your monitor or your readings with you. This will help your doctor determine if the changes you’ve made are helping.

Taking your blood pressure at home is no substitute for seeing your doctor regularly. Your doctor may want to see you more often than usual as you are trying to get your blood pressure under control. Be sure to comply with their recommendations for visits. Your doctor may recommend blood work or other tests. Be sure to follow instructions for fasting or other restrictions.

High blood pressure can cause serious complications and diseases, particularly in elderly people. However, there are treatments and medications that will lower it to a healthy level. These are readily available and easy to adopt. Maintaining your blood pressure at a healthy level increases your overall health. This will ultimately improve your quality of life.

If you or a loved one have experience with high blood pressure and what you did to combat it, we encourage you to share your story below in the comments section!

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers is currently a Resident in the Internal Medicine program at UTMB. He studied at the University of Queensland School of Medicine as well as received his Master’s in Public Health with a focus in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Southern California. His background is in biology, computer science, public health, and internal medicine.

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