Recent updates to guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology changed the definition of high blood pressure or hypertension for most people. High blood pressure is now generally defined as 130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number (previously it was 140/90). However, there are important considerations for older adults in deciding whether to start treatment for high blood pressure, including other health conditions and overall fitness. If your blood pressure is above 130/80, your doctor will evaluate your health to determine what treatment is needed to balance risks and benefits in your particular situation.
About This Image: Person receiving a blood pressure test. Medical research shows that as we age blood pressure rises slightly to accommodate an increased demand of oxygen and nutrients. It is completely natural for the first number (systolic) to be 100 plus our age. A recent study by a group of UCLA researchers came very close to corroborating Dr. Piette's guide for blood pressure of 100 plus your age for men, subtracting 10 for women, and this is after this rule had been in use for five or more decades. Are we now being taught that Dr. Piette's guide for blood pressure is wrong merely for drug company profit?
The American Heart Association, or AHA, explains that the early symptoms of high blood pressure that people tend to think about are largely mythical. You are unlikely to notice “classic” signs such as anxiety, insomnia, or flushing in your face. You could have blood spots in your eyes due to subconjunctival hemorrhage, but dizziness itself is not among the essential symptoms of high blood pressure.
It wasn’t long ago (2013) that those over 60 were advised to aim for blood pressure below 150/90. Now, as a result of a single large trial, the numbers are being revised in a major way. But as Dr. Gilbert Welch has pointed out at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/15/opinion/blood-pressure-guidelines.html , there are problems with this study. First, about 8% of patients aiming for 140 systolic (or less) had “cardiovascular events,” whereas only 6% of those in the 120 systolic group did. This is only a 2 point reduction, but as a percentage it’s a 25% reduction. This is the misleading use of percentage change instead of actual change. Second, the participants were already at higher than average risk for cardiovascular problems, so it was a study of a selected group and not of the general population.
The best evidence indicates that high blood pressure does not cause headaches or nosebleeds, except in the case of hypertensive crisis, a medical emergency when blood pressure is 180/120 mm Hg or higher. If your blood pressure is unusually high AND you have headache or nosebleed and are feeling unwell, wait five minutes and retest. If your reading remains at 180/120 mm Hg or higher, call 9-1-1.
The cause for hypertension is not always known, although it can develop as a result of other health conditions including: sleep apnea, kidney problems, and thyroid issues. Beyond chronic health conditions, risk factors for hypertension include age, the amount of salt you eat, being overweight or obese, using tobacco, drinking excessively, not exercising, and having too little potassium in your diet.
Measuring blood pressure in both the lying (supine) and standing positions usually is the first step in diagnosing low blood pressure. In patients with symptomatic low blood pressure, there often is a marked drop in blood pressure upon standing, and patients may even develop orthostatic symptoms. The heart rate often increases. The goal is to identify the cause of the low blood pressure. Sometimes the causes are readily apparent (such as loss of blood due to trauma, or sudden shock after receiving X-ray dyes containing iodine). At other times, the cause may be identified by testing:
^ 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.