Alert
Close

Join the Drive to End Hunger! Watch the NASCAR race on Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

HIGHLIGHTS

Open
10,000 Games Galore Sweepstakes from AARP
Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

AUTO BUYING PROGRAM

AARP Auto Buying Program

Download the ipad App

AARP-iPad-ePub-app

DRIVER SAFETY

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

Contests and
Sweeps

Safe Driving in 2014 Sweepstakes

Learn how AARP Driver Safety can help you stay safe—and enter for a chance to win $1,000. See official rules. 

KEEP BRAIN ACTIVE!

AARP Games - Play Now!

AARP BOOKS

Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies

Get expert advice on planning for your own or a relative’s future care needs.

Webinars

Learn From the Experts

Sign up now for an upcoming webinar or find materials from a past session.

Learning centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.

 

Arthritis

Heart Disease

Diabetes

Most Popular

Viewed

Nothing has been viewed

share your thoughts

What does the health care law mean to you? Your story is important. We read and learn from every story and it helps us in our educational efforts. We may even use your comments (with permission) to brief legislators, inspire readers and more. Please share your story with us. Do

Do You Really Have High Blood Pressure?

Maybe your doctors think so. Maybe they're wrong

So how do you know if you really have high blood pressure?

First, make sure that the office reading is done correctly. "Readings should be taken only after you've been sitting or lying down for five or 10 minutes — not just after you've raced into the office," Brangman says.

It's also a good idea for your doctor to get a second reading after you stand up. (As you get older, the mechanism that increases blood pressure automatically when you get out of bed or a chair can become less responsive, making you prone to falls. This is a condition called orthostatic hypotension.)

If your office numbers are indeed high, ask your doctor about a home blood pressure monitor. These easy-to-use devices allow you to test your own blood pressure at various times during the day, which can help your doctor rule out both white coat hypertension and masked hypertension.

"Up until about 10 years ago, doctors only paid attention to diastolic hypertension. Now we know it's really systolic hypertension that matters in older people."

In some cases, doctors recommend ambulatory blood pressure testing, using a device that automatically takes readings of blood pressure over a 24-hour period. Ambulatory testing can identify people whose pressure doesn't fall during the night, as it should. This phenomenon, called "non-dipping," becomes more common as people age and has been shown to increase cardiovascular and stroke risk.

What should my numbers be?

High blood pressure in older people is very different from the condition in middle age.

"When people develop high blood pressure in middle age, the problem is typically elevated diastolic pressure, which is indicated by the lower number," says Izzo. Ideally, the goal is to bring the numbers down close to a normal reading of 120/80.

Once you hit age 60, though, it's the upper number — the systolic pressure — that can really climb, causing concern. Systolic hypertension occurs when the arteries close to the heart begin to stiffen, making them less responsive to blood flow.

"In a sense, you have almost two forms of hypertension," Logan says. "Up until about 10 years ago, doctors only paid attention to diastolic hypertension. Now we know it's really systolic hypertension that matters in older people."

Further, many older people develop a condition called wide pulse pressure, in which diastolic pressure drops even as systolic pressure climbs. The widening gap between the upper and lower numbers has been shown to be an independent risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

It also poses a tricky challenge for doctors. Drugs that lower systolic blood pressure typically bring down diastolic blood pressure, too. If that number is already low, medications can prove risky.

Next: The pros and cons of blood pressure medications. >>

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Reading eyeglasses eyemed 6 membership benefit health

Members save 25% on orders of $200 or more and get 25% off lens upgrades at glasses.com.

AARP/Walgreens Wellness Bus Stops in Clarksdale, MS

Members can get exclusive points offers from Walgreens and Duane Reade.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points