Getting your "upper" blood pressure number below 140 can boost your chances of staying healthy. Many older people don't know that a high "upper" number can put them at risk for heart disease, heart attack, or a stroke, with resulting disability. But, blood pressure above 140 mm Hg can be treated and lowered cheaply and effectively.
Blood pressure is typically recorded as two numbers – the systolic pressure over the diastolic pressure. A high top number and a normal bottom number of a blood pressure reading is called isolated systolic hypertension (ISH). Treatment and prevention of this condition are essential because left alone, high systolic pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, dementia, kidney damage, and blindness.
"The good news is that ISH can be controlled in older adults and perhaps even prevented by taking steps early to prevent the rise of blood pressure with age," says Dr. Andre J. Premen, director of Cardiovascular Aging at the National Institute on Aging (NIA). "By taking control, older people can add meaningful life to their years by remaining independent and staying out of hospitals and nursing homes."
Hypertension therapy may begin with lifestyle changes, and older people often respond to modest salt reduction and weight loss. If the target blood pressure is not achieved, then medicine is necessary. A low-cost and well-tolerated drug – a diuretic (water pill) – is effective. Based on clinical trial findings, this drug is recommended as the first line of treatment for high blood pressure in older adults.
The NIA, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) leads the Federal effort supporting and conducting research on aging, age-related disease, and social and behavioral needs of older people. Part of NIA's research involves ways to prevent frailty and reduce disability with age. For more information about health and aging, visit the NIA website at http://www.nia.nih.gov. Information on controlling blood pressure and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan is available from the National High Blood Pressure Education Program, a program of NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The website address is http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov.