Treating high blood pressure as we age

January 13, 2020

By: Allison Kauffman

In recent years, both my mother and father have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. So far, I have not, but with both parents dealing with this medical condition, I decided it was time to do my research!

It’s hard to imagine, but statistics show that one in three adults in the United States have high blood pressure, known as hypertension. Another staggering statistic is that nearly half of those with hypertension do not have it under control. High blood pressure incidence increases with age and the American heart Association says that Americans have a lifetime risk of 90 percent, meaning that if you live long enough, you most likely will develop hypertension.

So what exactly is high blood pressure? Dr. Jenna Brown of Albright LIFE tells us it is a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease. Your blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The Mayo Clinic reports the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure will be.

Another scary statistic is that you can have hypertension for several years without any symptoms at all. If your high blood pressure isn’t controlled, it can increase your risk of serious health problems.

So what should we watch out for when trying to determine if high blood pressure is a possible concern? The Mayo Clinic reports most people have no signs or symptoms, but could experience headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds. But those symptoms may not be related to high blood pressure at all, so that’s why it’s important to have your blood pressure checked as part of a routine doctor’s appointment. You can also purchase your own blood pressure monitor at a local drug store. My husband is on medication and has to check his blood pressure daily. It’s an easy process to work the machine and it gives him peace of mind knowing his blood pressure is controlled. My husband was also told that he should check his blood pressure in both arms to determine if there’s a difference.

Many pharmacies also offer free blood pressure screenings or you can attend a local health fair, such as the one held annually at RiverWoods Senior Living Community. The blood pressure machines at pharmacies can offer information about your blood pressure, but they may have some limitations due to cuff size and proper use of the machine, so a regular checkup by a doctor is the better way to gauge your blood pressure. According to Dr. Brown, there are two types of hypertension: primary and secondary. She explained the difference between the two, saying, “Primary is caused by heredity, diet, smoking, lack of exercise and other causes. Secondary comes from another cause, such as medication a patient may be taking or kidney disfunction.”

She said many LIFE participants have high blood pressure. “Arteries start to harden over time as we age, which can make the blood vessels tighter.”

Dr. Brown says there are many risk factors for high blood pressure. They include age, family history, race, weight, physical activity level, tobacco usage, too much salt, too little potassium, too much alcohol, stress and some chronic conditions.

So looking at my mother and father, there is a good chance I will have high blood pressure at some point in my life because it tends to run in families. Your risk of high blood pressure also increases the older you get. Those of African American decent have a higher incidence of high blood pressure at an earlier age.

So how does high blood pressure impact your body? Dr. Brown says the excessive pressure on your artery walls can damage your blood vessels and also other organs in your body. Complications from uncontrolled high blood pressure can include heart attack or stroke, aneurysm, heart failure kidney damage, vision loss and dementia.

When you take your blood pressure, there are two numbers. The upper number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats, which is called systolic pressure. The lower number measures the pressure in your arteries between beats, which is called diastolic pressure. The Mayo Clinic reports normal blood pressure is below 120/80. Elevated blood pressure is a systolic pressure ranging from 120 to 129 and a diastolic pressure below 80. Stage 1 hypertension is 130/80 to 139/89 and Stage 2 hypertension is 140 or higher over 90 or higher.

You can expect your doctor to take two or three blood pressure readings each at several separate appointments before diagnosing you with high blood pressure. Dr. Brown explained, “Usually we like to see three in a row, because high blood pressure may be because of an acute stressor or something you ate prior to the test.”

Your doctor may also recommend test such as urine, blood and cholesterol tests and an electrocardiogram. Once you have been diagnosed, what are the treatments?

Doctors will recommend a diet low in salt. Also you will be encouraged to get regular physical activity and maintain a healthy weight or lose weight. You will also be asked to limit the amount of alcohol you drink. And, in many cases, you will be taking medication to lower your blood pressure. If you are a smoker, you will be encouraged to quit. You can also try meditation to help reduce your stress levels. Many fitness classes and meditation classes are available at Albright LIFE, RiverWoods and Normandie Ridge to help patients with high blood pressure.

There are a variety of medications today that are used to treat high blood pressure. Your doctor will decide which one works best for you and may add additional medications if the first one isn’t helping you reach your blood pressure goal. Dr. Brown said, “We decide on what medication is best for each individual patient depending on how high their blood pressure is, if they have kidney or liver dysfunction or any other problems that may not work well with the blood pressure medications.”

Once the right medication is found, high blood pressure can be regulated for many patients. However, Dr. Brown says patients must take their medication regularly. So, with exercise, a good diet and an overall healthier lifestyle, it’s possible to control your blood pressure.