High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Basic Facts

What is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure is also known as hypertension. It is sometimes called the “silent killer” because it produces few, if any, symptoms. In fact, you might not even realize you have high blood pressure. But if it’s not treated, this condition can lead to heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, eye disease, and other serious problems. 

High blood pressure goes hand-in-hand with getting older because blood vessels naturally stiffen as you age. As that happens, the amount of force needed to pump blood through your arteries increases and puts more pressure against artery walls. This can weaken and damage them. 

Fortunately, high blood pressure is easy to detect and, in most cases, easy to control. And that’s why it’s so important to monitor your blood pressure regularly. 

  • Over half of people aged 60 and older have some amount of high blood pressure.
  • African Americans have a higher incidence of hypertension than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.

Your Blood Pressure Measurement

Blood pressure is measured in two numbers. An example of a blood pressure reading is 150 over 90. (It is written out as 150/90 mm Hg).  The first number measures your blood pressure when your heart is beating. This is called systolic pressure. The second number measures your blood pressure when your heart is at rest.  This is called diastolic pressure.

Your Blood Pressure Goal

Healthcare professionals have different recommendations for blood pressure levels depending on a person’s age and health. Your personal blood pressure goal depends on your age and other medical conditions. In general, the goal blood pressure for otherwise healthy older adults is 150/90 mmHg or lower.

However, this recommendation does not account for the variation in health among older people. It is important for you to work with your healthcare provider to come up with individual blood pressure goals that fit your particular situation.  For example, if you have diabetes or kidney problems, your goal blood pressure is lower. A study called the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) suggests that older adults with heart disease or some circulation problems have better outcomes with a lower goal of a systolic blood pressure of 120 mmHg or less. On the other hand, it may be harmful for frail older people to lower their blood pressure too much. 


Last Updated December 2017