As you age, prevention becomes even more important. Systolic pressure tends to creep up once you’re older than 50, and it’s far more important in predicting the risk of coronary heart disease and other conditions. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease, may also play a role. Talk to your doctor about how you can manage your overall health to help prevent the onset of hypertension.
Primary (or essential) hypertension is when the cause is unknown. The majority of hypertension cases are primary. When there is an underlying problem such as kidney disease or hormonal disorders that can cause hypertension, it is called secondary hypertension. When it is possible to correct the underlying cause, high blood pressure usually improves and may even return to normal.
How the heart pumps blood into the arteries with enough force to push blood to the far reaches of each organ from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet. Blood pressure can be defined as the pressure of blood on the walls of the arteries as it circulates through the body. Blood pressure is highest as its leaves the heart through the aorta and gradually decreases as it enters smaller and smaller blood vessels (arteries, arterioles, and capillaries). Blood returns in the veins leading to the heart, aided by gravity and muscle contraction.
Blood pressure guidelines show the lower the blood pressure numbers the better. As long as no symptoms of trouble are present there is no one number that doctors consider being too low. The guidelines call for an individualized, risk-based approach to managing hypertension, as well as a personal consultation with a health care provider. While the new guidelines mean we are more aggressive about blood pressure control, lifestyle changes are always a part of the treatment plan. A treatment plan is agreed to by patient and provider, and includes ongoing communication to see how the patient is feeling and how their medications are working.
A reduction from 8% to 6% of cardiovascular events is known as an absolute risk reduction of 2%. This may seem small, but the translation is not small when applied to real world people. This can be understood more easily as something called “number needed to treat” which is calculated by 1 divided by the absolute risk reduction. In this case, an absolute risk reduction of 2% translates to a “number needed to treat” of 50 (1 divided by 0.02 = 50). This means that 50 people need to have a BP down to < 120/80 in order for 1 cardiovascular event to be prevented. In the context of many other things we do in our life (medical treatment or not), this is really good!
A person consistently showing blood pressure higher than 140/90 over several readings is considered to have hypertension. Doctors advise these people to make effective lifestyle changes to help lower their blood pressure, such as maintaining a healthy weight, including exercise in their daily routine, limiting salt and alcohol intake, and quitting smoking. The doctors will also recommend medication for hypertension depending on how much higher the BP is as compared to the normal blood pressure range and any other health problems that the patient faces.
Whelton PK, Carey RM, Aronow WS, et al. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA guideline for the prevention, detection, evaluation, and management of high blood pressure in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017; pii: S0735-1097(17)41519-1. PMID: 29146535 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29146535. 

Generally, blood pressure tends to be higher if more blood is pumped into the arteries or if the arterioles are narrow and/or stiff. Narrow and/or stiff arterioles, by resisting the flow of blood, increase blood pressure. Arterioles may become narrower when the muscles surrounding them contract. Arterioles may become stiff and narrow when older patients develop atherosclerosis.
A single lower-than-normal reading is not cause for alarm, unless you are experiencing any other symptoms or problems. If you experience any dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea or other symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider. To help with your diagnosis, keep a record of your symptoms and activities at the time they occurred.
Moderate or severe bleeding can quickly deplete an individual's body of blood, leading to low blood pressure or orthostatic hypotension. Bleeding can result from trauma, surgical complications, or from gastrointestinal abnormalities such as ulcers, tumors, or diverticulosis. Occasionally, the bleeding may be so severe and rapid (for example, bleeding from a ruptured aortic aneurysm) that it causes shock and death rapidly.

^ Xie, X; Atkins, E; Lv, J; Bennett, A; Neal, B; Ninomiya, T; Woodward, M; MacMahon, S; Turnbull, F; Hillis, GS; Chalmers, J; Mant, J; Salam, A; Rahimi, K; Perkovic, V; Rodgers, A (30 January 2016). "Effects of intensive blood pressure lowering on cardiovascular and renal outcomes: updated systematic review and meta-analysis". Lancet. 387 (10017): 435–43. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)00805-3. PMID 26559744.

Blood pressure (BP) recordings consist of two numbers. The top one is the systolic blood pressure and relates to the contraction of the left side of the heart and the peak pressure achieved when it pumps blood round the body. The bottom number is the diastolic recording and is the lowest pressure achieved in the circulation; this relates to the relaxation of the heart. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg), e.g. 120/70 mmHg.


High blood pressure, also known as hypertension (See blood pressure chart below) is called the “silent killer” for a reason — there are no obvious symptoms but it can result in heart attack, stroke and even death. The good news is there’s a lot you can do to maintain healthy blood pressure or get back to one, often without the need for medications.

Other causes of dehydration include exercise, sweating, fever, and heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Individuals with mild dehydration may experience only thirst and dry mouth. Moderate to severe dehydration may cause orthostatic hypotension (manifested by lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting upon standing). Prolonged and severe dehydration can lead to shock, kidney failure, confusion, acidosis (too much acid in the blood), coma, and even death.

John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.


One reason to visit your doctor regularly is to have your blood pressure checked. Routine checks of your blood pressure will help pick up an early rise in blood pressure, even though you might feel fine. If there's an indication that your blood pressure is high at two or more checkups, the doctor may ask you to check your blood pressure at home at different times of the day. If the pressure stays high, even when you are relaxed, the doctor may suggest exercise, changes in your diet, and, most likely, medications.
^ Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, Rich R, Humphrey LL, Frost J, Forciea MA (17 January 2017). "Pharmacologic Treatment of Hypertension in Adults Aged 60 Years or Older to Higher Versus Lower Blood Pressure Targets: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians". Annals of Internal Medicine. 166 (6): 430–437. doi:10.7326/M16-1785. PMID 28135725.
In normal blood pressure for elderly & adults over 50, increased systolic blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. Systolic blood pressure tends to increase steadily over time due to stiff arteries, a build-up of plaque, and a higher rate of cardiac and vascular disease. This means older adults need to be even more vigilant about monitoring their blood pressure.
^ Saiz, Luis Carlos; Gorricho, Javier; Garjón, Javier; Celaya, Mª Concepción; Muruzábal, Lourdes; Malón, Mª del Mar; Montoya, Rodolfo; López, Antonio (2017-10-11). "Blood pressure targets for the treatment of people with hypertension and cardiovascular disease". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 10: CD010315. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd010315.pub2. PMID 29020435.
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