Of the Top 8 Chronic Conditions in Seniors, hypertension is one of the most common, along with other chronic conditions that can be caused by hypertension. High blood pressure is quite common in seniors and once you develop high blood pressure, it usually lasts a lifetime, but in some instances, can be reversed with lifestyle changes. This chronic condition can be frightening because you may have had high blood pressure for years without noticeable symptoms. Having high blood pressure can cause serious problems, such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke, cognitive decline, dementia, aneurysm, vision loss, and kidney problems. While hypertension is known as the silent killer, the good news is that it can be easily detected and managed under the supervision of your doctor. Getting diagnosed with hypertension early on will allow you to take the appropriate steps including diet and lifestyle changes and or medications to manage it.
When blood circulates through the body, it does so by pushing against the artery walls and the force of the blood flow is called blood pressure. The two types of pressure are called systolic and diastolic. Systolic pressure is when the heartbeats and blood pressure is at its highest, and diastolic occurs in between beats and blood pressure falls. To read blood pressure, systolic pressure is the upper number and diastolic pressure is the lower number. As the day goes on, your blood pressure can either go up or down depending on your activities and mood. When your heart beats quickly due to excitement, being nervous, or being active, this can cause your blood pressure to rise.
Complications of hypertension in seniors
As you age, your body naturally has to work harder than it did before. In patients with hypertension, the heart is already working even harder to pump blood through the body. In seniors, high blood pressure puts you at a higher risk for stroke or even a heart attack, especially if you are unaware you have this condition.
Undiagnosed hypertension can cause:
• Aneurysms in the heart, brain, legs, and intestines.
• Blood vessels in the eye to bleed, which can cause blindness.
• Your arteries to harden, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, or kidney failure.
• An enlarged heart
Some of the risk factors:
⦁ Family history. High blood pressure tends to be hereditary.
⦁ Obesity. The more you weigh, the more blood your body needs to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. As the amount of blood flow through your blood vessels increases, this puts more pressure on your artery walls.
⦁ Lack of physical activity. When you are inactive, this increases your risk of being overweight and leads to a higher heart rate. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart is working, increasing the strain on your arteries.
⦁ Tobacco. Smoking or chewing tobacco will raise your blood pressure temporarily, but the chemicals in these products can damage the lining of your artery walls. This can cause your arteries to narrow and increase your risk of heart disease.
⦁ Salt (sodium) and Potassium. Too much sodium in your diet can cause your body to retain fluid and too little potassium increases blood pressure. A proper balance of potassium helps regulate the amount of sodium and is critical for good heart health. Losing too much potassium due to dehydration or other health conditions can lead to elevated levels of sodium in your blood.
⦁ Alcohol. Heavy drinking can damage your heart over time. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. As an example, one drink equals 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.
⦁ Stress. High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure. Stress-related habits such as eating more, using tobacco, or drinking alcohol can lead to further increases in blood pressure.
⦁ Some chronic conditions. There are some chronic conditions that can increase your risk of high blood pressure. Some of these include diabetes, kidney disease, and sleep apnea.
Studies show that the leading cause of hypertension in seniors is kidney disease, diabetes, obesity, overweight, and smoking. With any chronic condition, treatment and management come with lifestyle changes. It is recommended to have a blood pressure monitor at home and to check your blood pressure daily. Before taking your blood pressure, be sure not to drink coffee or smoke 30 minutes prior. The best time to take your blood pressure is when you are in a relaxed state, sitting upright with your feet on the floor. If you find that your blood pressure is high, here is a list of some lifestyle changes that can be helpful.
Treating hypertension in the elderly:
1. Regular exercise
Exercising regularly can help with many health issues and even prevent future ones. Putting together an exercise routine will help to manage blood pressure and there are many different types of workouts for seniors based on their health and mobility levels. Activities such as walking, cycling, jogging, swimming, golf, and tennis are forms of exercise that promote heart health and can reduce hypertension.
If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, chances are you will be prescribed medication. The doctors will typically prescribe a low dose of a particular medication and monitor you for any side effects. If your hypertension is mild and your physician feels that lifestyle changes may correct the conditions, there are some natural herbs that can reduce your blood pressure.
Natural herbs to help hypertension:
⦁ Basil: High in eugenol, which acts as a natural calcium blocker allowing the blood vessels in the heart to relax.
⦁ Parsley: Contains vitamin C and dietary carotenoids that may lower blood pressure.
⦁ Bacopa monnieri: An herb that grows in South Asia. It is used to treat anxiety, memory issues, and hypertension.
⦁ Ginger: Often used in alternative medicine, ginger acts as a calcium channel blocker and an ACE inhibitor.
⦁ Cinnamon: Although no one knows exactly how it helps to manage blood pressure, research shows that can assist in dilating and relaxing the blood vessels.
The bottom line is that high blood pressure is very common and the best way to manage hypertension is through a healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking and excess alcohol consumption.
3. Reducing salt intake
On average, people consume between 9-12 grams of salt per day. Most seniors add salt to most of their meals as well. Reducing your salt intake to less than five grams a day can decrease the risk of hypertension. Be sure to read food labels so you can track your salt intake better.
4. Reducing Stress
Stress can have many damaging effects on the body, including raising blood pressure. Stress-reducing activities such as yoga, meditation, walking, and breathing exercises can help keep the body in a calm state. Avoiding stressful situations may sometimes be difficult but learning how to respond to them can help to keep blood pressure down.
5. Healthy Diet
The food that we eat basically makes up who we are. The saying ”you are what you eat” is true. Including more vegetables and fruits into your diet and cutting back on meat has been proven to help reduce blood pressure. Get help from family members to put together a meal plan that will help keep you as healthy as possible.
You may have undiagnosed hypertension and if unmanaged, it can lead to serious health conditions. Whether you have hypertension or think you may have it, speak with your physician and get tested. Purchase a blood pressure monitor so you can check daily. Put your health and happiness first by finding out if you have this condition. The first step is to consult with your doctor for a diagnosis and they will help with recommendations about how to control your blood pressure so you can avoid other chronic conditions.