Blood Pressure and Aging: What Every Senior Should Know

Patient Blood Pressure Test

As you grow older, you may encounter a number of age-related health challenges, from arthritis and osteoporosis to high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Individuals aged 65 and older develop this condition three times as commonly as those aged 20 to 44.

Because high blood pressure can increase the risks for heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and other issues, you need to understand how high blood pressure affects seniors, how to interpret age-related changes in blood pressure, and what you can do to control the problem. Here are some key points to consider.

Blood Pressure May Rise or Drop With Age

Blood pressure often rises with age, but not always in ways you might expect. For instance, systolic blood pressure (the upper number in a blood pressure reading) usually rises, while diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) may remain stable or even drop.

The systolic number in a blood pressure reading indicates the pressure level within your blood vessels as the heart contracts. The diastolic number indicates the pressure level while the heart rests between contractions.

Seniors whose diastolic blood pressure drops abnormally low may experience a condition known as orthostatic hypotension. (The condition can also occur when systolic blood pressure drops significantly.) If you have this issue, you may feel lightheaded if you stand up too suddenly, placing you at risk for falls.

Blood Pressure Problems Can Point to Other Age-Related Disorders

An abnormal blood pressure reading can serve as a useful alert that you need to address a particular underlying health challenge. Cardiovascular problems often manifest themselves as hypertension. If untreated, these problems may cause mini-strokes that promote dementia.

Sometimes hypertension and other disorders interact. For instance, just as high blood pressure can eventually damage the kidneys, kidney malfunction can also play a role in the development of high blood pressure. High blood pressure and diabetes often co-occur, with obesity as a common underlying cause.

Blood Pressure Standards and Recommendations Have Changed

Your efforts to maintain a normal blood pressure for your age may prove confusing if you can’t tell what levels constitute a normal range. Traditionally, a diagnosis of high blood pressure in seniors required a systolic number above 150 and a diastolic number above 80 (commonly read as 150/80)

In recent years, however, the medical profession has changed the way it defines hypertension by adopting uniform standards for all age groups. According to these updated standards, if you’re 65 or older and you have blood pressure numbers higher than 130/80, you have hypertension.

This change may not matter much to seniors already under treatment for hypertension, but for others, it could mean that they have suddenly gone from a clean bill of health to a hypertension diagnosis. If you haven’t had your blood pressure professionally checked recently, schedule this check and follow medical recommendations.

Blood Pressure Levels May Improve if You Modify Your Lifestyle

Some seniors may assume that a diagnosis of high blood pressure automatically calls for medication. In truth, many cases of age-related hypertension can respond to conservative, drug-free care. Your doctor may recommend this approach as the first course of action before advancing to medication.

At any age, lifestyle changes can play a major role in blood pressure reduction and maintenance. You may need to change your diet, shed extra pounds, increase your activity level, stop smoking, or receive treatment for underlying, co-occurring conditions such as kidney disease or diabetes.

Keep in mind that the wrong approach to diet and exercise might impair your health instead of improving it. For instance, certain exercises might cause dizziness if you have very high or low blood pressure. Ask for medical guidance on how you can safely modify your lifestyle.

If conservative methods fail to bring your blood pressure under control, don’t hesitate to try prescription medications. You may need to try more than one blood pressure drug before you achieve the desired results. You might also find that pursuing a healthier lifestyle enables you to take less medication.

Getting older doesn’t have to mean a life plagued by blood pressure problems and their consequences. Take action now to control your health by contacting Stellis Health for a primary care evaluation.