It’s true. High blood pressure (hypertension) and aging go hand in hand. In the United States, more than three quarters of adults will have the condition by age 70. According to the American Heart Association, men are more likely to have uncontrolled hypertension in their younger years, but when men and women reach their 50s and 60s they have similar odds. At 70 and older, women are 29% more likely to have uncontrolled high blood pressure than men, and that number increases to 63% with women in their 80s and up.
How blood pressure changes as you age
Blood pressure readings consist of the upper and lower values of systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure. Systolic measures the pressure when your heart chambers contract to push blood through the vessels while diastolic measures the pressure in your blood vessels between heartbeats. This is when your heart chambers are refilling with blood.
As we age, the systolic blood pressure tends to rise and the diastolic tends to fall—even for people who have no history of hypertension. Some older people have what’s called isolated systolic hypertension in which only the systolic pressure goes above the normal 129 but the diastolic pressure stays below 90.
Find out what’s involved with chronic care management of hypertension and why it’s so important.
High blood pressure warning signs as you age
While these warning signs can apply to anyone, it may be particularly helpful for older adults and caregivers to know what to watch out for.
- Shortness of breath
Pay attention to any changes in your breathing. Shortness of breath during daily activities may be a sign of pulmonary hypertension, when the arteries that carry blood to your lungs and heart are working too hard. Unchecked high blood pressure can cause fatigue and shortness of breath while sudden shortness of breath could be an indication of heart attack or stroke.
- Facial flushing
While high blood pressure doesn’t necessarily cause facial flushing, having a flushed face is often associated with the condition. This is because having hypertension may cause the blood vessels in the face to dilate and cause the face to appear red or “flushed.”
If you’re having dizzy spells, this could be an indication of prolonged and unchecked high blood pressure and you may be more at risk for stroke. Strokes happen when you experience a sudden loss of blood supply to the brain, which may induce the experience of dizziness.
If you or someone close to you is having a medical emergency,
call 9-1-1 immediately.
High blood pressure can trigger anxiety and anxiety can also trigger a spike in blood pressure. Be aware of any changes in mood but also notice sweats, breathlessness, trembling, or heavy breathing—all of which could be warning signs of high blood pressure.
- Blood spots in eyes
Another warning sign of unchecked blood pressure in aging adults is blood spots in the eye. These are called subconjunctival hemorrhages caused by tiny blood vessels breaking and blood getting trapped, causing a “spot.” Having hypertension can cause too much pressure to be placed on the arteries that feed blood around the eyes.
Having a nosebleed could be a sign of a “hypertensive crisis,” when you have a blood pressure spike over 180/120mm Hg. This excess pressure can damage your nasal blood vessels and increase the amount of time your nose bleeds.
Another warning sign of high blood pressure and hypertensive crisis is vomiting, along with symptoms such as confusion and blurred vision. These are all signs of emergency and require immediate medical attention.
Some older adults with high blood pressure may also notice blood in the urine and may have difficulty sleeping. If you’re having any symptoms that concern you, talk to your doctor and get help right away.