Management of Older Hypertensive Patients: Is There a Difference in Approach?


Henry R. Black, MD, Associate Vice President, Rush University Medical Center, 1700 West Van Buren, Suite 470, Chicago, IL 60612
E-mail: henry


Hypertension is the most common reason Americans visit a physician. Recent analyses from the Framingham Heart Study and others have shown that there will be 70 million hypertensive Americans by the year 2020 and that the overwhelming majority of hypertensives will be 65 years of age or older (what we used to call “elderly”). The lifetime risk of Americans who live to age 85 years of becoming hypertensive is approximately 90% for both men and women. These individuals, even if they develop an elevated blood pressure late in life, are at significantly increased risk of the many medical complications attributable to hypertension (coronary artery disease, strokes, heart failure, chronic renal disease, and more). Older hypertensives are more likely to have an elevated systolic blood pressure and a low diastolic blood pressure, both of which are related to a loss of article compliance and have an increase in left ventricular mass and a decrease in peripheral resistance. We now have a substantial body of evidence from well done clinical trials that older hypertensives benefit as much or more than younger patients from antihypertensive therapy, so there is no longer any justification for withholding medication from any hypertensive patient whose competing risk or other medical problems are not a contraindication to treatment. These same studies, and practice-based analyses, have shown that the major barrier to reaching blood pressure goal is our failure to reduce systolic blood pressure to <140 mm Hg in most patients and to <130 mm Hg in diabetics and those with renal failure. The basis for all antihypertensive therapy, especially in older people, is thiazide diuretics with either angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, β blockers, or calcium entry blockers as appropriate add-on treatment. The choice of the second agent depends on other factors, such as comorbidity, lifestyle, and affordability. We must be more aggressive in getting the message out that older hypertensives benefit from treatment and we must overcome the “clinical inertia” that seems to be a factor in the decision of many physicians not to treat an older patient. No older person should suffer a preventable, life-threatening event or become confined to a wheel chair if attention to lifestyle issues and a few pills a day could avoid that outcome.