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Epidemiologic Appraisal of Hypertension as a Coronary Risk Factor in the Elderly

Authors

  • Christopher J. O'Donnell MD, MPH,

    1. From the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Framingham Heart Study, Framingham, MA;1,2 the Cardiology Division1 and Department of Medicine,1,2Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; the Department of Preventive Medicine, Boston Medical Center, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA;2 and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Bethesda, MD1
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  • and 1 William B. Kannel MD, MPH 2

    1. From the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Framingham Heart Study, Framingham, MA;1,2 the Cardiology Division1 and Department of Medicine,1,2Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; the Department of Preventive Medicine, Boston Medical Center, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA;2 and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Bethesda, MD1
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Christopher J. O'Donnell, MD, MPH, Framingham Heart Study, 5 Thurber Street, Framingham, MA 01701
E-mail: chris@fram.nhlbi.nih.gov

Abstract

Five decades of epidemiologic research has established elevated blood pressure as a major contributor to atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases in the elderly, including coronary heart disease. Clinicians formerly favored the diagnosis and treatment of hypertension in terms of the diastolic blood pressure and categorical “hypertension.” Epidemiologic data now emphasize the essential role of systolic blood pressure, pulse pressure, and a graded influence of blood pressure, even within the high-normal range. The risk of coronary heart disease, the most common lethal sequela of hypertension, increases with the extent of risk factor clustering. Among hypertensive persons, about 39% of coronary events in men and 68% in women are attributable to the presence of two or more additional risk factors. When risk factor clustering is associated with glucose intolerance, obesity, and dyslipidemia, it may be attributed to insulin resistance promoted by abdominal obesity. Other hazardous influences often accompanying hypertension in the elderly are the presence of an elevated heart rate, elevated levels of fibrinogen, and left ventricular hypertrophy. Because clustering with other risk factors is characteristic of hypertension in the elderly, it is essential to screen for them and for the presence of comorbid cardiovascular diseases, target organ disease, and subclinical vascular disease likely to be present. Multivariate risk assessment profiles enable global estimation of hypertensive risk of developing coronary heart disease. Hypertensive elderly patients are more appropriately targeted for antihypertensive therapy by such risk stratification than by relying solely on the severity of the blood pressure elevation. The goal of therapy should be to improve the multivariate risk profile as well as the level of the blood pressure.

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