THE SILENT KILLER
The reason high blood pressure is often called the ‘silent killer’ is because it has no discernible symptoms. Still without ever producing a symptom it can result in a heart attack, heart failure, a stroke, or kidney failure. The only way to know if you have it is to have your doctor check your blood pressure at your annual checkup. You can also check it yourself with a home blood pressure monitor.
Your blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood as it pushed against the arterial walls. As most people know, there are two numbers when your blood pressure is 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 at rest or between beats. Your blood pressure is expressed as systolic pressure over diastolic pressure. Healthy blood pressure in most people is 120/80.
Blood pressure that is too low can be an issue as well, particularly when we are older. 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.
When an older person has high blood pressure, they can often lower it by making lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthier diet and participating in more physical activities. Elderly people who have mobility issues may be unable to exercise adequately. When this is the case, medication may be required to reduce their blood pressure. Limiting the amount of salt in the diet can also 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 seniors. Some research seems indicates that it is caused by the natural thickening of arteries as we age. This requires the heart to have to work harder to pump the blood through our system. High systolic blood pressure is most common for those older than 60.
Although it is typical for blood pressure to rise as we get older, that does not mean that it is not still dangerous. This is why it is essential to regularly monitor blood pressure in elderly people.
Blood pressure is closely linked to heart health. That is why it is quite important to maintain a healthy blood pressure level. High blood pressure can lead to chronic kidney disease, stroke, and/or heart attacks. Elderly people are at a higher risk for these conditions. Having high blood pressure increases the already elevated risk.
There are a number of chronic conditions that can cause high blood pressure in the elderly. These include diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and kidney disease.
It can sometimes be difficult to determine the causes of high blood pressure in elderly people. Do they have kidney disease because they have high blood pressure? Or do they have high blood pressure because they have kidney disease? Ultimately, identifying the cause is not so important. 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 when it is detected early. The first step should be a change in lifestyle. Here are some changes that elderly people and others can make to lower blood pressure.
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY WEIGHT
Obesity is one of the most significant causes of high blood pressure in the elderly. Do a little research and determine what your optimal weight is, given your height, sex, body type, and age. If your weight is above the ideal then ask your doctor about safe methods to lose weight.
Your diet should include a balance of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. The less processed the food you eat is, the better your health will be. If you are overweight, this type of diet should also help you lose weight too.
If you have mobility issues that limit your ability to exercise, consult your doctor about what you should do. Most senior citizens can do some form of physical exercise. It’s important to get some exercise every day whenever possible.
Follow two simple rules to cut down on salt: Remove the salt shaker from your table and reduce your consumption processed foods or cut them out altogether. Since it is a preservative there is usually a lot of salt in processed food. By eating more natural, unprocessed foods, we naturally reduce the amount of salt we consume.
Seniors who smoke are at high risk for many diseases. You’re never too old to quit, and quitting will improve your health from very first day onward.
Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436. (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
DRINKING LESS ALCOHOL
A glass of red wine may be good for you, but too much can be a problem.
Women should limit their drinking to no more than one drink per day and men should drink no more than two per day. Your doctor may recommend that you limit your drinking further depending on the medications you take.
As we age, our sleep patterns often change. Elderly people still need about seven to nine hours of sleep each night, just like other adults. Do your best to keep a regular sleep schedule, rising and going to bed at about the same time each day. Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening. Do not 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, consult your regular physician. They may prescribe medication. Make sure your doctor knows what other medications you are taking. This will ensure there are no harmful interactions. Check your blood pressure regularly to make sure it stays at a healthy level.
There are a number of different kinds of blood pressure medications. The most common types of medications include:
Diuretics: They will cause you to urinate more frequently, flushing sodium from your system.
Beta Blockers: These slow your heartbeat. Your heart pumps less blood through your body’s blood vessels which lowers your blood pressure.
ACE Inhibitors: ACE stands for Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme. These block the hormone that narrows your blood vessels. When your blood vessels are wider, your blood pressure will be lower.
Vasodilators: These relax blood vessel wall muscles to reduce blood pressure.
Your doctor may prescribe one or more of these medications. (S)he will monitor your blood pressure to make sure it stays within healthy parameters. Many medications have side effects so tell your doctor about any changes since you started the medication.
KEEPING TRACK OF YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE
You can easily track your own 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.
Taking your blood pressure at home is not a 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 follow their recommendations for visits. Your doctor may recommend blood work or other tests. Be sure to follow fasting instructions or other restrictions prior to having your blood work done.
High blood pressure can cause serious complications and diseases, particularly in older people. However, there are treatments and medications that should lower it to a healthy level. Maintaining your blood pressure at a healthy level improves your overall health. This will ultimately improve your quality of life.