As you age, prevention becomes even more important. Systolic pressure tends to creep up once you’re older than 50, and it’s far more important in predicting the risk of coronary heart disease and other conditions. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease, may also play a role. Talk to your doctor about how you can manage your overall health to help prevent the onset of hypertension.
Everybody’s blood pressure goes up and down throughout the day. Walking to work, meditating, stressing about your Facebook feed, taking that sweet afternoon nap, and pounding a triple shot espresso all influence your blood pressure. There’s even a thing called “White Coat Hypertension” where people report higher than normal blood pressure readings due to the stress of just being in a doctor’s office with a cuff strapped to your arm. Blood pressure is a moving target. It’s not the end of the world if it spikes every now and then.
Your doctor may also use a device called an ophthalmoscope to look at the blood vessels in your eyes. Doctors can see if these vessels have thickened, narrowed, or burst, which may be a sign of high blood pressure. Your doctor will also use a stethoscope to listen to your heart and the sound of blood flowing through your arteries. In some cases, a chest x-ray and electrocardiogram may be needed.
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.
Omega-3 fatty acids: A type of healthy polyunsaturated fat that you need for many different bodily functions. It helps protect against heart disease and stroke. Human bodies can't make omega-3s. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, found in flaxseed, soybean and canola oils, and some green vegetables like kale and spinach; and DHA and EPA, found in fatty fish.
When discussing blood pressure issues, the healthcare professional may ask questions about past medical history, family history, and medication use, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and food additives. Other questions may include lifestyle habits, including activity levels, smoking, alcohol consumption, and illegal drug use.
Hypertension: Another word for high blood pressure, hypertension is a common condition in which blood flows through your arteries too forcefully. Blood pressure is measured by two numbers. The top number is called the systolic blood pressure, and the bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure. Your blood pressure is high when it’s at or above 130/80. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or lower.
Cut down on salt. As you get older, the body and blood pressure become more sensitive to salt (sodium), so you may need to watch how much salt is in your diet. Most of the salt comes from processed foods (for example, soup and baked goods). A low-salt diet, such as the DASH diet, might help lower your blood pressure. Talk with your doctor about eating less salt.
Some examples of aerobic exercise you may try to lower blood pressure include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or dancing. You can also try high-intensity interval training, which involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with subsequent recovery periods of lighter activity. Strength training also can help reduce blood pressure. Aim to include strength training exercises at least two days a week. Talk to your doctor about developing an exercise program.
HDL cholesterol: Two types of cholesterol are found in your bloodstream: HDL and LDL. HDL is the “good” kind. It acts as a scavenger, picking up extra cholesterol and taking it back to your liver. When a doctor tests your blood for cholesterol levels, you want your HDL levels to be high. HDL levels of 60 or more help to lower your risk for heart disease.
You may be directed to seek medical care if blood pressure readings are elevated if done as part of a community health screening. Isolated elevated blood pressure readings do not necessarily make the diagnosis of hypertension. Blood pressure readings vary throughout the day, and your primary care provider may record a different reading than the one that was measured in a screening that sent you in for care.