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High and Low Diastolic Blood Pressure in the Elderly

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

For older people, blood pressure can be a very helpful indicator of overall wellbeing. Although elderly people with high blood pressure typically feel no symptoms from it, high blood pressure readings are well known to be a red flag suggesting health problems relating to the cardiovascular system.

However, although we often talk about simply “lowering blood pressure,” the situation is slightly more complicated than it seems. Blood pressure measurement actually involves two figures, the systolic blood pressure and the diastolic pressure. The more commonly discussed figure, and the one that many seniors are trying to lower, is the systolic blood pressure.

Yet an older person’s diastolic pressure is important too – and sometimes overlooked. In this blog post, we’ll investigate the causes of both high and low systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure figures, and how it is that a person with “high blood pressure” may actually have only one figure that’s high.

What’s the difference between systolic and diastolic blood pressure?

Blood pressure in general is the measurement of how hard your blood is pressing against the walls of your arteries. It’s measured in two numbers, the systolic and diastolic pressure, which are usually written together separated by a slash, such as 100/70mmHg.

The first of these figures, the systolic figure, is the pressure during a heartbeat, so it measures how hard your heart is beating. The diastolic figure is the pressure in between heartbeats, and it’s typically lower because the heart is relaxed during this time.

It’s easy to see why doctors are often concerned with the systolic pressure. If an older person’s heart has to beat really hard to pump blood, that’s not good for the heart muscle or the body. High systolic pressure is well-known to be connected with an increased risk of dangerous conditions like heart attacks and strokes.

However, diastolic pressure shouldn’t be ignored. Constant high pressure on blood vessels isn’t healthy and can be damaging, even in between heartbeats. That’s why the NHS guidelines on blood pressure set out what’s healthy for both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Blood pressure and the elasticity of your arteries

Your blood pressure will be higher during a heartbeat, when your heart is pushing your blood through your arteries, and lower in between heartbeats. It makes sense, then, that a healthy artery wall should be stretchy or elastic. That way, the artery can expand a bit to accommodate the higher pressure of a heartbeat and decrease in size between heartbeats.

Unfortunately, it’s common for older people to lose stretchiness in their arteries. When an older person’s arteries aren’t elastic enough, they can be damaged by the pressing of blood against them. Eventually, they may even rupture, resulting in a stroke.

Now you can see why diastolic blood pressure still matters. Although the diastolic figure doesn’t measure how hard your heart is beating in the same way that the systolic figure does, the diastolic figure is still an indicator of how healthy and stretchy your arteries are, among other factors.

What are the causes of high diastolic blood pressure?

The factors involved in high diastolic and systolic blood pressure are usually similar. Doctors can’t predict exactly who will get high diastolic or systolic blood pressure, but it is known that many factors raise the risk of high blood pressure, including:

For example, cholesterol from a diet high in saturated fats can cause fat to build up inside the arteries. That leaves less room for blood to flow through, increasing blood pressure and forcing the heart to work harder.

What are the causes of low diastolic blood pressure?

You might be surprised to know that some older people actually experience low diastolic blood pressure – and that lower diastolic pressure is not actually a good thing!

We mentioned earlier that it’s important for arteries to be elastic so that they can stretch a bit during a heartbeat and then return to a smaller size in between heartbeats.

If an older person’s arteries are not stretchy enough, they might not shrink to that smaller size appropriately while the heart’s not beating. This can result in low blood pressure.

Low diastolic blood pressure can also be connected to dehydration, or it can be a medication side effect.

Researchers at the University of Alabama suggest that reducing salt intake is the best way to improve the elasticity of arteries, meaning that this step can help low diastolic blood pressure as well as high blood pressure.

What about low systolic blood pressure?

Low systolic blood pressure isn’t as common a problem for elderly people as high systolic blood pressure, but it can still be a concern. Some possible causes are long-term health conditions, such as diabetes, as well as dehydration or medication side effects.

What can you do if you have high or low diastolic blood pressure

If you’re concerned about any aspect of your blood pressure, it’s best to check with your GP so they can see what’s going on.

If your GP confirms that your high or low diastolic blood pressure is related to lifestyle choices such as smoking, diet, stress and exercise, then they might recommend some simple steps to get your diastolic blood pressure where you want it to be. Reducing salt intake, taking healthy exercise and quitting smoking can all be game changers when it comes to blood pressure.

It's also important to reduce stress. However, that can be difficult for an older person who’s worrying about their risks of heart attacks and strokes due to high blood pressure of any kind. An older person who lives alone might be concerned that if they do suffer a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular crisis, they won’t be able to call for help. And if an older person has low blood pressure, fainting can also be a concern – which can lead to dangerous falls.

That’s where a personal alarm can offer immense peace of mind and stress reduction. An alarm with automatic fall detection will immediately call for help when it senses that its wearer has fallen – whether that fall is due to a blood-pressure-related heart attack, fainting or just tripping or stumbling. No matter the reason for the fall, an older person with a fall detection alarm never needs to worry that they’ll have a health crisis with nobody alerted.

A talking pendant alarm can provide extra reassurance. The alarm will call for help if it detects a fall or if the wearer presses the help button. Then the older person can talk directly through the alarm and receive reassurance from friends or from our expert response centre – whichever you choose.

SureSafe protection for seniors with high or low blood pressure

SureSafe is a trusted, highly reviewed provider of personal alarms for the elderly that are designed to ensure an older person never has to experience an emergency without knowing help is coming. Whether an older person is concerned about low diastolic blood pressure, high diastolic blood pressure or something else, our alarms can provide a sense of security and take the weight of worry off their shoulders.

Our easy-to-use, affordable alarms also offer many more functions that can make older people’s lives safer. To chat with us about how our alarms can help you or an elderly loved one to stay safe, give us a call on 0800 112 3201, try our live chat, or request a call back.

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