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Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) Information for Seniors

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High blood pressure is the most common health issue faced by seniors across the globe. While blood pressure can fluctuate slightly during certain times of the day and in certain situations, hypertension refers to an abnormally high blood pressure that persists for weeks, months or years. While it often does not cause and symptoms, particularly in the first few years of being present, it can lead to a host of complications such as heart attack or stroke. These conditions are often fatal. Therefore hypertension is often referred to as the silent killer.

Blood Pressure Levels

The normal range of blood pressure (force of blood flow against the blood vessel walls) in humans is 120/80 mmHg.

  • The numerator (120) in this ratio refers to the systolic blood pressure – the blood pressure when the heart contracts to forcefully pump the blood out into the major blood vessels of the body.
  • The denominator (80) in the ratio refers to diastolic blood pressure –  the blood pressure when the heart rests in between the heartbeats.  Blood fills into the heart chambers during this diastolic or rest phase.

In hypertension, both the systolic and diastolic blood pressures are increased abnormally to values above 140/90 mmHg. It is also possible for only the systolic or the diastolic blood pressure to increase abnormally.

High Blood Pressure Symptoms

In most cases, hypertension does not cause any symptoms. A diagnosis is made only when the doctor checks the blood pressure in the clinic. Therefore, all adults should undergo regular health checkups to detect hypertension at the earliest stage. Some of the signs and symptoms that may be seen with hypertension includes :

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting (sudden and severe elevation of blood pressure)
  • Vision changes
  • Nosebleeds
  • Confusion

Additional symptoms may be present depending on complications that have developed – coronary artery disease, heart failure, stroke among others.

Causes of Hypertension

If no cause of hypertension is found, it is known as primary hypertension or essential hypertension. Hypertension due to some identified cause (like a medical condition or medication) is known as secondary hypertension. Older people are more susceptible to hypertension because blood vessels become stiffer with age. Secondary hypertension could be caused by a variety of factors that affect the blood pressure :

  • The kidney is the one of the main organs that is involved in the regulation of blood pressure. Therefore, kidney diseases (chronic glomerulonephritis, polycystic renal disease, renovascular disease) are the main cause of secondary hypertension.
  • Diseases of the adrenal glands (Cushing syndrome, primary aldosteronism, congenital adrenal hyperplasia) are also major causes of secondary hypertension. The hormones produced by the adrenal glands are also involved in regulating the blood pressure.
  • Increased consumption of salt, and low water levels in the body also contribute to hypertension.
  • Diseases of the thyroid and parathyroid glands (e.g., hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism) also lead to hypertension.
  • Heart disease, atherosclerosis and narrowing of the aorta (main artery that distributes blood from the heart to other parts of the body) are also common causes of secondary hypertension.
  • Stress also releases hormones that cause hypertension.
  • Hypertension could have a genetic cause because members of certain families have a higher risk of developing the condition.
  • Diabetes mellitus can lead to secondary hypertension
  • Excessive alcohol intake and smoking are preventable causes of secondary hypertension.
  • Certain medications could also cause secondary hypertension.

Hypertension Treatment

The aim of the treatment is to bring the blood pressure within the normal range. Both medication and lifestyle changes are recommended for hypertension.

Medication

The main classes of medicines given for treating hypertension include diuretics, ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, angiotensin II receptor blockers, and calcium channel blockers.

Lifestyle changes

These include restricting the intake of salt, participating in regular aerobic exercise, quitting smoking and alcohol, reducing stress, and losing weight.


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