Aging & Health A to Z
High Blood Pressure
Care & Treatment
Because high blood pressure can lead to other health problems, treatment is important. The goal of treatment is to lower your blood pressure enough to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Treatment for high blood pressure usually begins with changes in diet and lifestyle.
Medications are used to lower blood pressure in more severe cases (160/100 or higher), or when lifestyle changes alone haven’t helped.
Your healthcare professional may first prescribe a diuretic (water pill), which lowers blood pressure by reducing the amount of fluid in your body. Frequently, this drug belongs to a group called thiazides.
- Thiazide diuretics produce fewer side effects than other anti-hypertensives.
- Thiazide diuretics are taken only once a day, and are fairly inexpensive.
Other Anti-hypertensive Medications
Other medications used to treat high blood pressure include:
- ACE inhibitors
- Alpha blockers
- Alpha-beta blockers
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers
- Calcium channel blockers
- Central-acting agents
- Renin inhibitors
People with hypertension often take more than one medication. Your healthcare professional and pharmacist can provide more information about these drugs and help you decide which ones are best for you, based on other medical conditions you may have.
If you’re worried about taking blood pressure medication, especially if you don’t feel sick, don’t be. Research has shown that drug treatment for high blood pressure is safe and effective in older adults. Still, as with all treatments, you should talk with your healthcare provider about balancing the clear benefits of drug treatment with the potential side effects that may affect your daily function and quality of life.
Rise Slowly to Prevent Falls and Fainting
A potential complication of drug treatment is a sudden drop in blood pressure, which can cause you to faint or fall. This may happen after meals, or when getting up after sitting or lying down. This problem is one reason that drug treatment is started at low doses and increased slowly and carefully. While taking blood pressure lowering drugs, rise from a lying or sitting position slowly so that your body can adjust.
Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)
If you take a diuretic (water pill), especially at higher doses, you may have a loss of blood potassium. Low levels of blood potassium can lead to problems with your heart rhythm or muscle weakness.
Your healthcare professional may check your potassium levels frequently during treatment and may recommend potassium supplements. Some foods are also good sources of potassium. However, some other medications used to treat high blood pressure can cause your body to retain potassium. Check with your healthcare professional before taking extra potassium or replacing salt with a salt substitute that contains potassium (one good reason to read the label!)
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012