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High blood pressure in the elderly

by Sue Lanza

Due to its telltale lack of symptoms high blood pressure can wreck havoc on the body without notice, easily earning the nickname, "the silent killer". Listen up to learn what the causes, preventive tips and methods of controlling hypertension in the elderly.

High Blood Pressure Defined

As blood is pumped through the body, it carries vital oxygen to all the organs to keep the body thriving. The heartbeat is responsible for the pushing action or the pressure of the blood being forced through the veins and arteries. This first push is one part of a blood pressure reading called the systolic pressure. A second action that makes up the other portion of a blood pressure number is the force of the heart as it rests between beats and this is called diastolic pressure. Put together, these two numbers give a health care practitioner a blood pressure reading that allows an understanding of the health of your circulatory system.

When arteries are healthy, they expand easily to accommodate the pumping and resting blood spurts. As we age, these muscle and tissues walls of the arteries face challenges from blood pushing too hard causing high blood pressure.

Causes and Effects of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension as it is also called, effects over 50 million Americans with those aged sixty and older having a sixty percent chance of developing the condition because of hardening of the arteries. Through stretching and overuse of the arteries, many medical conditions can occur. Unfortunately, many people have high blood pressure but remain untreated because they are unaware of the circumstance or are symptom-free. Advancing age alone is not really a risk factor for high blood pressure yet the chance for developing blocked arteries does increase with each successive year.

Other conditions that can contribute to your development of hypertension include a family history of the disease, obesity and having routinely higher than normal blood pressure throughout your life. The more danger factors you have, the more likely you are to develop the disease.

If you are like most folks (this includes me), your physician may have detected high blood pressure on a routine office visit. Your doctor will likely repeat the pressure reading two or three times since you could have "white coat syndrome" and feel more nervous in a clinical setting. It is also known that individuals over sixty tend to have more fluctuations in their blood pressure throughout the day so one reading alone might not give the doctor accurate information.

High blood pressure is of concern at any age is because it could potentially lead to other more serious conditions such as stroke, heart disease or kidney problems. Even with a real diagnosis from a trusted physician, individuals often "pooh-pooh" the idea because they usually feel no symptoms, although some people do encounter headaches, dizziness or sweating with the condition.

What Should You Do About High Blood Pressure?

There is no cure for the disease, but there is hope to control and manage the symptoms through medications, diet or both. In my case, my blood pressure was slightly elevated so my doctor recommended losing about twenty pounds (easy for him to say!) and my pressure should come in line. In many instances, a change in diet naturally reduces salt intake and leads to weight loss. As mentioned earlier, obesity is a clear risk factor for increased blood pressure.

For some individuals, diet alone is not enough and that is where medications can help. The categories of hypertension medications range from diuretics which flush excess water and sodium content from the body, to beta blockers that decrease the nerve impulses to the heart and force it to slow down, to vasodilators which relax the blood vessel muscleswith many other variations. Initial resistance to taking medications for high blood pressure is common because of no symptoms and the fear of side effects. However the new choices in drug therapy along with the chance of relatively minor side effects makes it easier to start even patients of advanced age on a combination of medications to get the desired result.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to never develop hypertension in the first place. That means maintaining a lifestyle that includes healthy foods that are low in fat and sodium, regular physical activity, no smoking and limited alcohol. The other recommendation is to keep your weight in a healthy range. Just like you, I'm working on it!