Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

May 26, 2016

Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

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For adults over 65, high-blood pressure, or hypertension, affects nearly 64 percent of men and 69.3 percent of women according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many people with hypertension show few signs or none at all, even when blood pressure levels become dangerously high.

After age 18, it is recommended that people receive a blood pressure reading at least twice a year. This is even more critical for seniors, especially those with existing kidney or heart conditions.

There is not a single identifiable cause of this condition; primary hypertension usually develops over many years. When there are distinct factors leading to high blood pressure, this is known as secondary hypertension.

Risk Factors for High-Blood Pressure

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  • Kidney problems
  • Tumors of the adrenal glands
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Congenital blood vessel defects
  • Increased risk through medications*
  • Certain illegal substances
  • Alcohol abuse
  • General stress

*  Medications such as decongestants, over the counter pain relievers, and some prescription drugs can increase your risk of high blood pressure.

Symptoms of Hypertension

It is uncommon for people with hypertension to experience any outward symptoms until blood pressure spikes to a dangerously high level. This is known as a hypertensive crisis.

If you experience light-headedness, severe headaches, and/or nosebleeds it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Other symptoms of a hypertensive crisis include severe anxiety, a shortness of breath, and intense disorientation.

Left uncontrolled, hypertension can lead to much more serious conditions such as:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Aneurysm
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Trouble with cognition and memory
  • Damaged blood vessels in kidneys
  • Damaged blood vessels in eyes

If you take your own blood pressure and receive a systolic pressure above 180 or 110 or greater for the diastolic pressure, you may be experiencing a hypertensive crisis. Wait only a few minutes and check again; if the numbers remain or increase, don’t hesitate to call 911.

Sustained hypertensive crises can cause severe complications, such as brain swelling or hemorrhaging, strokes, fluid in the lungs, and tears in the heart’s main artery.

Treating High Blood Pressure

If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, there are immediate lifestyle changes you can make. Eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight are the important regardless, but make a huge difference in heart and blood vessel health. Cutting back or completely abstaining from alcohol for people with high blood pressure can also help manage this condition.

However, these lifestyle changes aren’t always enough to treat hypertension, so your doctor may recommend one or several medications to help.

Common medications for hypertension include:

  • Diuretics – flush excess sodium, often used in conjunction with other pills
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors – relax and cause blood vessels to narrow
  • Beta-blockers – Used to slow the heartbeat, helping less blood flow though the veins.
  • Calcium channel blockers – Prevent blood cells from blocking calcium from entering the muscle cells or blood vessels
  • Alpha-blockers – Keep nerves from tightening around blood vessels
  • Central-acting agents – Decrease the nerve signals coming from the brain that narrows the blood vessels

In addition to medication and making lifestyle changes, another way to treat hypertension is by finding stress management techniques. Look for healthy alternatives such as meditation, therapeutic exercise like yoga, and by finding an outlet to express any internal frustrations.

Understanding the factors causing high blood pressure and seeing your doctor regularly can help manage hypertension before it turns into a more serious condition. Find a time to schedule your routine checkup today!

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Frequently Asked Questions

What percent of the population has high blood pressure?

In general, over 50 million people in the United States have high blood pressure. According to Heart.org, the following percentage of adults age 20 and older have high blood pressure in the United States.

  • Non-Hispanic whites: 33.4 percent of men and 30.7 percent of women
  • Non-Hispanic blacks: 42.6 percent of men and 47.0 percent of women
  • Mexican Americans: 30.1 percent of men and 28.8 percent of women  

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What blood pressure reading is considered normal for an elderly adult?

Typically, a blood pressure of 120/80 is considered normal. However, for elderly adults (60 or older) a reading of 140/90 is considered acceptable but could indicate pre-hypertension. Generally speaking, most seniors do have higher blood pressures, even if they don't experience hypertension. If you’re worried that your blood pressure may be too high, consult your doctor and always opt for a professional cardiovascular assessment. 

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