Elderly Lax On High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a silent killer that affects millions and creeps up without warning. And new research shows that many older people aren't doing enough to control it.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains that high blood pressure, or hypertension, refers to the force of blood pressing against artery walls being too great, as that blood is pumped around the body by the heart.

It adds to the workload of the heart and arteries, and over time can damage the heart, arteries and other organs. It increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and heart failure.

A study in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association looked at blood pressure in older adults, and finds that not only do most people over age 80 have high blood pressure, but most aren't getting effective treatment to control it.

Researchers measured blood pressure and heart health in more than 5,000 older people, tracking them for up to six years. Among the oldest age group, 80 and over, almost three quarters had high blood pressure. But only 38 percent of the men in that age group and 23 percent of the women had their blood pressure treated effectively.

Most people eventually develop high blood pressure as a result of old age, and the researchers say that controlling blood pressure is urgent for people in this age group.

The study also found that stroke, heart attack and heart failure were more common in older people with high blood pressure.

The best advice is for people with high blood pressure to get their pressure down to normal levels, Senay points out. The upper limit of healthy blood pressure is "120 over 80," and people with diabetes should keep it even lower.

The guidelines urge early intervention with lifestyle changes for pre-hypertension, or blood pressures between 120 over 80 and 139 over 89. Medication should be considered for people with pressure above 140 over 90.

The only way to tell if you have it is to get it tested. Talk to your doctor about getting your blood pressure tested on a regular basis. Home tests are available to help your doctor determine the best treatments.

To reduce or avoid high blood pressure, it's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Among the things you can do: losing weight, eating foods low in fat and salt and high in potassium, not smoking, limiting caffeine and alcohol, getting regular exercise, managing stress, and taking medication.

Less expensive medications called diuretics have proven effective and are frequently prescribed for older people, along with newer medications.