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Evaluating benefits, risks of blood pressure medicine

Created date

July 23rd, 2013
Image of pills and bottle

A holistic approach to health and wellness is particularly important for seniors; every diagnosis and treatment should consider the whole individual and be a part of a comprehensive plan. This came to mind recently when I read a report by researchers from the University of Toronto about the potential risks associated with starting high blood pressure medicine.

High blood pressure or hypertension is known to be a significant problem for seniors. It affects over half of individuals age 55 to 74 and up to 75% of people over the age of 75. Hypertension increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Fortunately, there are effective medicines which can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of these complications. These medicines are generally safe, but like all treatments, they are not without side effects.

Increased risk of falls

The University of Toronto researchers led by Dr. Debra Butt took a new look at blood pressure medicines’ safety by monitoring seniors shortly after starting treatment. They found that seniors had up to a 43% higher risk of sustaining a fall and hip fracture in the first 45 days after starting blood pressure medicine. The study did not clearly demonstrate why this happens but suggested it may be related to a drop in blood pressure that can occur upon standing up from a sitting position. Occasionally, we have all experienced that mild dizziness associated with getting up too quickly. This effect can be more pronounced on blood pressure medicine. Because of this, your medical provider should carefully check your pressure in both the sitting and standing position before and after starting a new medicine.

This is particularly relevant for seniors who have a one in three chance of falling each year. Given that lowering blood pressure is very important, what can we do to reduce fall risk and prevent fractures when treatment with medicine is necessary?

First, follow a healthful lifestyle to reduce your need for medicine. Exercising regularly and reducing your salt intake are first steps that can lower your pressure and decrease the need for a pill. Also have your provider check your blood pressure standing up as well as sitting down to confirm that your blood pressure is consistently high in all positions before starting a new medicine.

If you are among the millions who (after lifestyle changes) still require a medicine to reduce your blood pressure, it becomes essential to take a comprehensive approach with your medical provider. Review all your medicines and supplements and their side effects; discuss fall risk and fracture prevention; and set up a plan to closely monitor your blood pressure, especially for the first two months of treatment.

Lowering your blood pressure and preventing the complications of this silent disease are of high importance; avoiding side effects can be accomplished with close monitoring and the development of a holistic approach with your medical provider.