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High Blood Pressure: Causes and Symptoms for the Elderly

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a condition whereby the pressure within your blood vessels is unusually high. Having high blood pressure can be dangerous because it means that the heart must work harder to pump blood around your body.

Left untreated, it can lead to more severe conditions. High blood pressure is often without symptoms, so it's essential to check your blood pressure regularly, especially as you get older.

High blood pressure can contribute to the hardening of the arteries, stroke, kidney disease and heart failure. It's estimated that around a third of all adults in the UK have high blood pressure, though many will be unaware. This is also a concern for elderly people across the country.

We explore the causes, symptoms and treatments for high blood pressure.

Blood pressure readings - what's normal?

A blood pressure reading is written like this: 120/80. It's read as "120 over 80." The top number is called the systolic, and the bottom number is called the diastolic. The ranges are:

Normal: Less than 120 over 80 (120/80)

Elevated: 120-129/less than 80

Stage 1 high blood pressure: 130-139/80-89

Stage 2 high blood pressure: 140 and above/90 and above

Hypertension crisis: higher than 180/higher than 120 -- See a doctor right away

For the over 80's, the target is to be below 150/90.

You can measure your blood pressure at home or be checked at your doctor's or in a clinic.

What can cause high blood pressure?

There are a vast range of factors that can cause high blood pressure, some of which are related to underlying health conditions, some because of lifestyle factors, and some are due to taking other medications.

Lifestyle factors that mean you may be at risk of getting high blood pressure

There are some reasons that you may be more at risk of high blood pressure, including if you

  • Are overweight
  • Smoke
  • Drink too much alcohol
  • Eat a high salt or otherwise unhealthy diet
  • Have a relative with high blood pressure (the condition can be hereditary)

It can be possible to reduce your chances of getting high blood pressure or reduce existing high blood pressure by making some lifestyle changes.

Health conditions that can cause high blood pressure

In addition to lifestyle factors, certain health conditions can cause high blood pressure. In around 1 in 20 cases, high blood pressure results from an underlying disease or due to taking certain medications.

Health conditions that can cause high blood pressure include

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Thyroid issues (including both underactive and overactive thyroid)
  • Lupus
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea

Medicines known to sometimes increase blood pressure include

  • The contraceptive pill
  • Steroids
  • Some SSRNI antidepressants

Where the cause of high blood pressure is a medication, it may return to a usual range once the medicine is no longer being taken.

How to know if you have high blood pressure

One of the most significant issues is that high blood pressure often has no signs of symptoms, even where readings may show that blood pressure levels are dangerously high, so it's always best to ensure that you have your blood pressure checked and recorded regularly.

Suppose you are already known to be at risk or already suffering from high blood pressure. In that case, your doctor may call you in more regularly for readings or recommend at home testing to supplement readings taken at doctors' appointments.

High blood pressure symptoms

As mentioned, many people with high blood pressure will not be aware. However, there are specific symptoms to look out for in some cases, such as shortness of breath, headaches, chest pains, dizziness, blurred vision or nosebleeds. However, these symptoms are not specific to high blood pressure and often only present when things are already at a critical level – therefore, regular testing should be performed.

Can high cholesterol lead to high blood pressure?

Put simply – yes.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is found within the blood. While every human being needs cholesterol to stay healthy as our cells use it – high cholesterol is defined as when you have too much "bad cholesterol" within your blood.

Your arteries can become hardened and narrowed with hard deposits from "bad" cholesterol. This, in turn, means that your heart must work harder to pump blood through the arteries leading to blood pressure becoming higher.

High blood pressure in the elderly

An ideal target blood pressure reading for those over the age of eighty is below 150/90mmHG when measured at a doctor's surgery or medical clinic or below 145/85mmHG for home readings.

Treatment for those over the age of 80 is less clear than for those under, and it's now considered that if you reach the age of eighty while taking treatment for high blood pressure, it's fine to continue. However, in some cases, your doctor will balance the effects of specific medication against other risks for older patients.

What are the risks?

When blood pressure is high, it puts additional strain on your heart and other organs such as your kidneys, brain, and even eyes.

Therefore, the condition can lead to more severe and potentially life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, strokes, aortic aneurysms and vascular dementia.

Lifestyle changes for high blood pressure

While how you tackle high blood pressure will often depend on the cause, there are certain lifestyle changes that you can make which can help to either avoid the condition in the first place or lower your blood pressure if it's already high.

Lose weight

When you are overweight, you force your heart to work harder to pump the blood around your body, which can cause raised blood pressure.

Be careful of salt

Some foods can increase or lower blood pressure, so it's vital that you consider your diet.

Salt can be a significant factor that increases blood pressure in many people. As salt causes the body to hold onto water, when too much is taken in, the extra water within the blood can mean extra pressure on blood vessel walls which raises blood pressure.

The issue is that salt is hidden in many daily foods, including cereals and bread – not just "salty food". Cutting down on salt can help to lower blood pressure quite quickly. Ideally, you want to aim for less than 6 grams of salt in your diet each day.

Exercise to lower blood pressure

Exercise has the dual benefit of helping you lose weight and keeping your heart and blood vessels in tip-top condition.

While exercise can become more challenging as we age, look at our guide to the best activies# for older people for some inspiration.

Reduce your caffeine intake

It's thought that drinking more than four cups of coffee a day can increase blood pressure, so ditch some of your high caffeine drinks and switch them out for caffeine-free alternatives. As an aside, disturbed sleep can also lead to elevated blood pressure, so reducing caffeinated beverages later in the day may also help you get a better night's rest—double win.

Medical Treatments for high blood pressure:

Where lifestyle changes are not enough to stop high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe certain medications to help to lower it.

In the UK, those under the age of 55 will often be offered something called an ACE inhibitor or an angiotensin-2 receptor blocker (ARB). While these medicines are slightly different to each other, they both work by relaxing your blood vessels, helping to reduce the high pressure.

For older people, calcium channel blockers will be offered—these work by widening the blood vessels.

Beta Blockers, which were previously a popular treatment for high blood pressure, are sometimes still prescribed but are now considered not as effective as other treatments. They work by making the heartbeat more slowly.

High blood pressure can lead to serious illness. Therefore you must get your blood pressure checked regularly, especially if you are a senior citizen.

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