Why Blood Pressure Drugs Are Dangerous for Seniors

When you go in for a checkup, one of the first things they do is take your blood pressure. If your numbers are over 130/80, chances are you’ll be prescribed a hypertension drug.

But if you are older, taking the medication could send you to an early grave.

That may sound alarmist. But it’s exactly what scientists found in a major new study of 415,980 people.

It showed that in people over 75, high blood pressure is linked to a longer lifespan. Normal blood pressure (under 130/80)—which most doctors want you to have—was actually associated with earlier death.

The researchers found this effect held especially true for frail seniors. With low blood pressure, they had a 62% higher risk of death over 10 years.

The study comes from Britain’s University of Exeter. It was led by doctoral candidate Jane Masoli. She said that, even though blood pressure guidelines keep moving to lower “normal” readings, “our findings indicate this may not be appropriate in frail older adults.”

An earlier study backs up this idea. It found that high blood pressure helps older people stay mentally sharp.

The research was published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Scientists followed 559 people over 90 for close to three years. None of the subjects had dementia when the study began.

The researchers collected the subjects’ blood pressure history from earlier years and checked them for dementia every six months. The study defined high blood pressure as 140/90 or higher.

The researchers found that subjects who developed high blood pressure were up to 63% less likely to develop dementia. Professor Maria Corrada was the lead researcher. She said it could be that higher blood pressure is needed as you age to keep adequate blood flowing to the brain and maintain normal mental function.

Another study found that high blood pressure in certain situations can actually save your life.

The research comes from the University of Georgia. Scientists there wanted to find out what would be the optimal blood pressure level for someone who has had a stroke.

They looked at the medical records of more than 4,000 stroke patients. A portion of the patients were treated for high blood pressure. The rest were given no treatment.

The patients who fared the best had high blood pressure. Their systolic reading (the upper number) was about 140 mmHg. Fewer of them suffered a second stroke, heart disease, or death.

Professor Changwei Li led the study. The findings show that blood pressure drugs may do more harm than good in people who have had a stroke or who are at high risk for one. For these patients, it’s best to maintain blood pressure closer to 140/90 than 120/80, he said.