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What Happens to Blood Pressure as we Age?

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Updated August 03, 2007

Question: What Happens to Blood Pressure as we Age?
Answer:

Age is a known risk factor for high blood pressure. In general, blood pressure rises as people get older. In fact, up to 80 percent of people over 65 have measurable high blood pressure.

Specifically, the systolic blood pressure rises with age, while the diastolic blood pressure tends to fall. This is true for people with high blood pressure and those with no history of high blood pressure. For people with pre-existing high blood pressure, this age-related blood pressure increase happens even if the blood pressure is well controlled with medicine.

In almost 60 percent of cases, people diagnosed with high blood pressure after age 65 have "isolated systolic hypertension." This type of high blood pressure means that only the systolic blood pressure is elevated.

The reasons why blood pressure increases with age are still poorly understood, but are a topic of intense research. Some known contributors include:

  • Age-related changes in hormone profiles
  • A tendency for older people to oversalt their food because of decreased taste bud sensitivity
  • Changes that happen in the walls of arteries and other blood vessels
  • Decreased efficiency of the heart
While a certain amount of blood pressure increase is unavoidable as we age, blood pressure health can still be maintained by following the same lifestyle recommendations as younger people.

Sources:

Burt, VL, et al. Prevalence of hypertension in the US adult population. Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1991. Hypertension 1995 Mar; 25(3):305-13.

Kannel, WB. Blood pressure as a cardiovascular risk factor: Prevention and treatment. JAMA 1996 May 22-29; 275(20):1571-6.

Whelton, PK, et al. Sodium restriction and weight loss in the treatment of hypertension in older persons: A randomized controlled trial of nonpharmacologic interventions in the elderly (TONE). TONE Collaborative Research Group. JAMA 1998 Mar 18; 279(11):839-46.

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