Seventy years old Henry had always been active and full of energy. However, as he entered his golden years, he started experiencing frequent spells of severe headaches, shortness of breath, occasional nosebleeds, and palpitations.
One day, during a routine check-up, Henry received unsettling news from his doctor. His blood pressure readings were consistently high, and he was diagnosed with hypertension. This diagnosis came as a shock to Henry, who had always prided himself on his healthy lifestyle and believed that he was in good shape.
Henry’s story resonates with 122 million people living with hypertension in the US. Statistics say that every second American above the age of 20 is either living with or prone to hypertension. High hemodynamic pressure, or hypertension, is a common health concern for people of all ages. However, it becomes increasingly prevalent and more challenging as we age. Senior blood pressure can lead to chronic heart disease, stroke, and other health complications. These alarming facts about hypertension demand attention from every individual to safely navigate hypertension and prevent the chronic health conditions associated with the condition.
Understanding New Normal Blood Pressure For Seniors
Higher BP for seniors occurs when the systolic blood pressure (the top number) reading is 130 mm Hg or higher and a diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) reading is 80 mm Hg or higher. There are several reasons why older individuals are more susceptible to hypertension:
Stiffening of Arteries
As people age, their arteries naturally become less flexible, a condition known as arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis causes the arteries to lose their ability to expand and contract efficiently, impairing smooth blood flow through them. This stiffness increases resistance within the arteries, leading to a rise in hemodynamic pressure. It’s important to understand that the heart has to work harder to pump blood through these stiffer arteries, which contributes to increased blood pressure for senior citizens. This condition is often referred to as “systolic hypertension” because it primarily affects the systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading).
Aging is associated with hormonal changes in both men and women, but in women, menopause plays a significant role. During menopause, the ovaries produce fewer hormones, including estrogen. Estrogen has a protective effect on the cardiovascular system, helping to keep blood vessels relaxed and maintaining healthy blood flow. With declining estrogen levels, women are at a higher risk of developing Hypertension. This hormonal shift is a contributing factor to hypertension in older women. However, it’s important to note that men can also experience hormonal changes that influence blood pressure as they age. For example, some studies associate the imbalances in hormones such as aldosterone with Hypertension.
Lifestyle choices are critical in managing senior citizen blood pressure. Sedentary lifestyles, poor dietary habits, and weight gain can significantly impact BP. Sedentary behavior, such as sitting for prolonged periods, can lead to weight gain and muscle loss, making it harder for the body to manage cardiovascular pressure. Unhealthy eating habits, particularly a diet high in sodium (salt), can cause the body to retain excess fluid, leading to elevated BP. Weight gain is often associated with an increased risk of hypertension, as it leads to more work for the heart and a higher demand for oxygen and nutrients.
Some medications prescribed for age-related conditions can inadvertently increase BP. For instance, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), commonly used for pain and inflammation, can lead to water and sodium retention, elevating BP. Similarly, certain decongestants and even some antidepressants can have this effect. It’s crucial for healthcare providers to be aware of all the medications a senior is taking and to monitor blood pressure regularly to adjust treatment plans as necessary.
Consequences of High Blood Pressure in the Elderly
High blood pressure in senior adults can have severe consequences if left unmanaged.
- Heart Disease: Elevated BP puts added strain on the heart, increasing the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and congestive heart failure.
- Stroke: Hypertension is a leading cause of strokes, particularly in older individuals.
- Kidney Problems: High BP can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, leading to kidney disease.
- Vision Issues: Hypertension can damage the blood vessels in the eyes, resulting in vision problems or even blindness.
- Cognitive Decline: There is evidence suggesting a link between arterial tension and cognitive decline in older adults.
Tips for Managing High Blood Pressure in the Elderly
Effective management of high blood pressure in older adults is crucial for preventing the associated health risks. According to the American College of Cardiology, “In people over 80, the goal is to reduce systolic blood pressure to less than 130 mm Hg to reduce the risks of heart disease, stroke, and other health conditions”. Here are some basic rules for keeping your BP under control.
Regular Blood Pressure Monitoring – Seniors should monitor their blood pressure regularly, ideally every day at the same time. Home blood pressure monitors are readily available and easy to use, costing around $30-100. Studies show that home monitoring helps nearly 75% of people better control their BP when combined with lifestyle changes and medication if needed.
Medication Compliance – If you are taking prescription medications for high BP or other health conditions, it is crucial to take them as directed by your healthcare provider and not stop or alter the dosage without consulting your doctor first. Regular medication reviews with a healthcare professional, at least every 6 months, are essential to address any side effects or potential drug interactions.
Maintain a Healthy Diet – Seniors should maintain a heart-healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, fibers, whole grains, and lean protein. Clinical studies show that the DASH diet, which includes reducing salt and processed foods, is highly effective. Doctors also recommend following the Mediterranean diet these days for its balance and nutrition.
Stay Active – Regular physical activity is beneficial for seniors as it can help lower blood pressure both immediately and in the long term. Activities like walking, swimming, dancing, or engaging in gentle yoga and tai chi for at least 30 minutes per day on most days can help.
Weight Management – Seniors should aim to maintain a healthy weight, as excess weight can contribute to Hypertension (specifically high blood pressure). According to the National Institutes of Health, it is safe for seniors to have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 27. Although it is typically considered “overweight” for younger adults, studies suggest that a slightly higher BMI in older adults can be protective against nutrient deficiencies and osteoporosis. However, it’s important to note that BMI may not be the most accurate measure of body composition and health for seniors, as it does not take into account factors such as muscle mass and distribution of body fat.
Limit Alcohol and Caffeine – Seniors should consume alcohol and caffeine in moderation, as excessive intake can raise BP.
Stress Reduction – Stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and engaging in hobbies can help reduce blood pressure.
Smoking Cessation – Quitting smoking is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure. Nicotine in cigarettes raises blood pressure and heart rate, making the heart work harder and increasing the risk of developing high arterial tension. According to the CDC, smoking causes about 20% of all deaths in the USA every year, making it the leading preventable cause of death. Smoking can cause other serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), all of which can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure.
Regular Healthcare Visits – Seniors should schedule regular check-ups with their healthcare providers to monitor their Hypertension (specifically high blood pressure) and receive guidance on managing their condition.
Medication Review – Seniors should discuss all medications, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements, with their healthcare provider to ensure they do not negatively affect arterial tension.
Why is my diastolic pressure high?
Several factors could contribute to high diastolic blood pressure. Diastolic pressure represents the force in your arteries when your heart is at rest between beats. When it’s consistently high, it could signal underlying health issues such as stress, obesity, poor diet high in sodium, lack of physical activity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, kidney problems, hormonal imbalances, or certain medications. High diastolic pressure might also be a result of underlying conditions like diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. It’s crucial to monitor and manage high diastolic pressure as it can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other complications. Consulting a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance on lifestyle changes, medication, or treatments is essential to address and manage high diastolic blood pressure effectively.