, Gloucester, MA

May 10, 2013

High blood pressure: What you need to know

Senior Lookout
Anne Springer

---- — Do you know what your normal blood pressure reading is?

May is High Blood Pressure Awareness Month. High blood pressure (hypertension) increases a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke, which are two of the leading causes of death in the United States, so knowing your blood pressure and following your physician’s recommendations with regard to blood pressure are very important ways that people can maintain good health.

The suggested optimal blood pressure for an average adult is 120/80. The first number is the systolic pressure (when the heart has contracted and is pushing blood through the circulatory system). The second is the diastolic pressure (pressure within your arteries when the heart is at rest). Someone who is very fit may have a slightly lower blood pressure, and a pressure that is a little high or low may not necessarily signal an abnormality.

As people age, their blood pressure may rise slightly, but systolic pressure above 140 and diastolic pressure above 90 are considered borderline hypertensive.

Another problem that sometimes occurs with age is arthritis, and at least one of the medications commonly taken for arthritic pain, ibuprofen, has been associated with raising blood pressure in some individuals. Some people are affected by other NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) medications, too, as well as some other pain relievers, antidepressants, and caffeine.

There’s also a phenomenon affectionately known as “white coat hypertension” which is when a person’s blood pressure rises only when they are at the doctor’s office. People who have this situation can purchase a blood pressure monitor for the home so that they can track their readings over a period of time, and bring the results to their doctor’s office to make sure that the spike really is just occurring at visits and isn’t a sign of a developing problem.

If you develop hypertension, there are some interventions that can help address the problem without medication. Obesity is a risk factor for high blood pressure, so losing weight, or maintaining a healthy weight, can help, as can exercise. (Always check with your medical provider before beginning a new exercise program).

The Mayo Clinic has something called the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which it says is a healthy way of eating that offers health benefits besides just lowering blood pressure, such as offering protection against osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It’s not specifically a weight-loss program, but you could lose unwanted pounds because it can help guide you toward healthier meals. More information on the diet is available at

Many people who have hypertension do not feel symptoms, so it is important for everyone to have their blood pressure checked periodically. When symptoms do occur, they may include headaches, dizziness or ringing in the ears, palpitations, nosebleeds, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, drowsiness or even confusion. If you have any of those symptoms, get your blood pressure checked and discuss with your health provider. A little knowledge and prevention can save your life from this silent killer.

Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.