How To Treat Hypertension

Statistics show that as you age you will develop a chronic disease. Adults 65 and older have an 80% chance of developing at least one condition and 68% will have two or more. You can prevent the onset of a chronic condition or manage existing ones with a healthy lifestyle.

The number one chronic condition that 58% of seniors develop is hypertension (high blood pressure). Let’s take a look at what it is, how to prevent and how to manage this health issue.


What Is Hypertension

The pressure or force of your blood pushing against the blood vessel walls is measured to determine your blood pressure. If the pressure against your blood vessel walls is too high you will be diagnosed as having high blood pressure. This means your heart is working harder than normal to pump blood throughout your blood vessels. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease. It is sometimes called the ‘silent killer’ because you may not be aware that damage is occurring in your body (although some people may show symptoms such as nose bloods, headaches and shortness of breath).

Your blood pressure measurements are based on two numbers. The top number is the systolic measure which represents when your heart contracts and pushes blood through your arteries. The bottom number is the diastolic measure of the pressure when your heart relaxes between the beats.

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association divide blood pressure into four general categories which are:

  • Normal – Blood pressure is 120/80 or lower.
  • Elevated blood pressure – The top number is between 120 – 129 and the bottom number is below 80.
  • Stage 1 hypertension – The top number ranges from 130 to 139 or the bottom number is between 80 and 89.
  • Stage 2 hypertension – The top number is 140 mm or higher or the bottom number is 90 or higher.
  • Blood pressure higher than 180/120 is considered an emergency. Seek emergency help if you have these numbers.

People who are more susceptible to high blood pressure include:

  • Other family members who have high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or  diabetes.
  • African descent.
  • Older than 55.
  • Overweight.
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Eating foods high in sodium (salt).
  • Smoke or use tobacco products.
  • Heavy drinker – more than two drinks a day in men and more than one drink a day in women
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Anemia

Measuring Blood Pressure At Home

If you plan on purchasing an automated, upper arm blood pressure monitor for use at home (recommended by the American Heart Association) check with your doctor for the best time to take the readings. For example, they may prefer you check your blood pressure at certain times of the day or before or after taking medication.  If you have an irregular heart rhythm some devices may not be advisable for you.  You can also take the monitor to your doctor or a pharmacist for a demonstration. Download a free blood pressure log from the American Heart Association or record in a notebook for reference for your doctor and yourself. Take the monitor to your doctor a few times a year to compare to their machine.

Share your blood pressure readings with your doctor, especially if your blood pressure is not in the normal range. Your doctor can then identify issues early on and determine the right type of treatment for you.

Here are steps to follow when taking your blood pressure:

  • Avoid cigarettes, caffeinated drinks and exercising 30 minutes before taking your blood pressure.
  • If you are upset, feeling stressed or in pain, do not take your measurements.
  • Empty your bladder or bowel.
  • Place feet flat on the floor (without crossing them) and your back resting against the back of a chair or a firm surface for at least 5 minutes before taking your blood pressure
  • Use the same arm each time.
  • Remove bulky or tight clothing from your arm and wrap the cuff snug around your bare upper arm. 1 finger should comfortably fit between the cuff and your arm when deflated and be 3cm above your elbow.
  • Place your arm on a table or a firm surface with the cuff level to your heart.
  • Do not talk or watch TV during the test.
  • Take two readings and record your blood pressure. Each reading should be a few numbers within each other.

a healthcare worker measuring a patient s blood pressure using a sphygmomanometer

Blood Pressure Treatment

 If your blood pressure is high or above normal, start treatment early before damage occurs in your arteries. Blood pressure can be caused by many factors including age, ethnicity and gender. Women over 65 are more likely than men to get high blood pressure. Pregnancy, birth control and menopause can also increase the risk for women.

Untreated high blood pressure can lead to serious health complications such as:

  • Stroke
  • Heart Attack
  • Peripheral vascular disease – Accumulation of plaque (fats and cholesterol) in the arteries in your legs or arms.
  • Kidney disease or failure –  Late-stage kidney disease requires dialysis or a kidney transplant.
  • Pregnancy complications – Chronic hypertension in pregnant people are at increased risk for developing preeclampsia.
  • Eye damage
  • Vascular dementia – Symptoms include memory problems, confusion and trouble concentrating and completing tasks. 

If you are diagnosed with above normal blood pressure readings, the following lifestyle changes will help to reduce your measurements:

Dietary changes:

  • Reduce your salt intake by:
    • Avoid highly processed foods (fast food, prepared meals, processed meats, canned and dried soup, salty snacks).
    • Reduce salt in cooking and at the table.
    • Reduce salt to less than 2,300 mg (about 1 tsp) a day total.
    • In place of salt use spices and herbs for tastier food (including garlic).
  • Increase potassium in your diet which includes (check with your doctor to ensure higher levels of potassium don’t interfere with medications):
    • Fresh fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, beans and lentils.
  • Avoid foods high in fat:
    • Butter and margarine
    • Processed salad dressings
    • Whole milk dairy products
    • Fatty meats
    • Fried foods
  • Include whole grain rice and pasta in your diet.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Cut back on caffeine.
  • Eat dark chocolate.
  • Eat high protein food including: (check with your doctor if you have kidney disease)
    • Fish (salmon, tuna)
    • Eggs
    • Poultry
    • Lean beef
    • Chick peas
  • For more information on diet and aging, read this informative article.

Exercise:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Losing even 5% to 10% of your weight can reduce your blood pressure.
  • Be physically active for at least 150 minutes per week doing moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise. 
  • Simple physical activities such as walking, can lower your blood pressure (and your weight).
  •  Read this article on how to get started on an exercise program.

Medication may be prescribed to control your blood pressure. Speak with your doctor to determine the best treatment for you and call your doctor with any side effects that concern you. It’s important to take your medication as directed and to not stop taking it on your own.


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