Treating Hypertension in the Elderly

Hypertension in the elderly: High blood pressure in older adults

By now, most of us know that high blood pressure is a bad thing to have. It can cause kidney, vascular and heart damage, as well as damage in other organs.

Many of us may have high blood pressure and don't even know it. It's actually a myth that we actually know when we have high blood pressure, such as when we feel stressed, have a headache, or are otherwise tense.

In fact, most of the time, high blood pressure has absolutely no symptoms until it's too late to do anything about the damage that's been done and those suffering from it have suffered a heart attack or stroke.

For older adults, it's just as important as for younger people to get high blood pressure diagnosed and treated.

High blood pressure is caused when either or both the higher (systolic) and lower (diastolic) numbers are elevated above normal. What is "normal" changes as the medical community has a better understanding of what blood pressure is and how it works, but currently, an individual is generally considered to have at least borderline high blood pressure if your numbers are higher than about 120/80.

Doctor checking the blood pressure of a woman.
Special considerations for elderly patients

About 60% of elderly patients have what's considered high blood pressure. In many cases, older patients have high systolic pressures but normal diastolic pressures. However, this is still a problem that needs to be treated; normal diastolic pressures do NOT mean that the patient doesn't have high blood pressure. It still needs to be treated and perhaps medication administered. That's why it is so important to treat hypertension in the elderly as soon as possible.

Getting it checked regularly

Everyone should get blood pressure checked regularly to make sure that it stays within current acceptable limits. If it does not, your doctor may prescribe lifestyle and diet changes to try to bring it under control. For example, you may need to lose weight, cut back on salt in your diet, or begin exercise. If this does not work or if your doctor deems it necessary, you may be put on medication to control it.

Medications need careful monitoring

Particularly in older patients, medications can significantly affect blood pressure to the point where it actually becomes too low. Fainting and other serious problems can result. Therefore, older patients especially need even more careful monitoring with medications to make sure these types of problems do not occur. In general, older patients are started on medications at much lower doses than younger patients, and dose increases are done much more incrementally and with younger patients.

The good news is, older patients are generally much more compliant about their medication usage than younger patients are. This means that they are in effect much easier to treat, since they follow directions and dosing properly with their medications. This, in turn, means that it can be quite easy to get under control hypertension in the elderly, once it's diagnosed. And that can mean a much longer and healthier life in general.


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