Applied Evidence

Hypertension treatment strategies for older adults

Author and Disclosure Information

This evidence-based review illustrates how to adjust treatment for comorbidities and incorporate frailty and cognitive impairment into the equation.


› Target a systolic blood pressure (BP) <120 mm Hg in community-dwelling, non-diabetic patients ≥75 years of age if it is achievable without undue burden. A

› Combine low doses of 2 medications, rather than increase the dose of a single agent, to achieve the desired BP target. A

› Consider cognitive function, polypharmacy, multimorbidity, and frailty when assessing and treating hypertension in older patients. A

Strength of recommendation (SOR)

A Good-quality patient-oriented evidence
B Inconsistent or limited-quality patient-oriented evidence
C Consensus, usual practice, opinion, disease-oriented evidence, case series


From The Journal of Family Practice | 2017;66(9):546-548,550-554.


CASE 1 An 82-year-old black woman comes in for an annual exam. She has no medical concerns. She volunteers at a hospice, walks daily, and maintains a healthy diet. Her past medical history (PMH) includes osteopenia and osteoarthritis, and her medications include acetaminophen as needed and vitamin D. She has no drug allergies. Her exam reveals a blood pressure (BP) of 148/70 mm Hg, a body mass index of 31, and a heart rate (HR) of 71 beats per minute (bpm). Cardiac and pulmonary exams are normal, and she shows no signs of peripheral edema.

CASE 2 An 88-year-old white man presents to the office for a 3-month follow-up of his hypertension. His systolic BP at home has ranged from 140 to 170 mm Hg. He denies chest pain, shortness of breath, or lower extremity edema. He lives with his wife and frequently swims for exercise. His PMH is significant for depression and degenerative disc disease. His medications include hydrochlorothiazide 12.5 mg/d, sertraline 50 mg/d, and naproxen 250 mg bid. His BP is 160/80 mm Hg and his HR is 70 bpm with normal cardiovascular (CV) and pulmonary exams.

CASE 3 An 80-year-old white man with diabetes mellitus (DM), hypertension, and chronic kidney disease (CKD) presents for a 3-month follow-up visit. His home systolic BP has been in the 140s to 150s. He is functional in all of his activities of daily living (ADLs), but is starting to require assistance with medications, finances, and transportation. He takes aspirin 81 mg/d, chlorthalidone 25 mg/d, and atenolol 50 mg/d. Remarkable laboratory test results include a hemoglobin A1c of 8.6%, a serum creatinine of 1.9 mg/dL (normal range: 0.6-1.2 mg/dL), and an albumin-creatinine ratio of 250 mg/g (normal range: <30 mg/g). During the exam, his BP is 143/70 mm Hg, his HR is 70 bpm, he is alert and oriented to person, place, and time, and he has normal CV and pulmonary exams with no signs of peripheral edema. He has decreased sensation in his feet, but normal reflexes.

How would you proceed with the care of these 3 patients?

Hypertension is the most common diagnosis made during physician office visits in the United States.1 Nearly one-third of the population has hypertension, and its prevalence increases with age, such that 67% of men and 79% of women ≥75 years of age have the condition.2

Evidence indicates that hypertension is a modifiable risk factor for CV and all-cause mortality (TABLE W13-6). All adults ≥75 years of age are at increased CV risk based on Framingham criteria,7 making hypertension management paramount. Complicating the situation are findings that indicate nearly half of adults with hypertension have inadequate BP control.2

A systolic BP target of <120 mm Hg is appropriate in community-dwelling, non-diabetic adults ≥75 years of age, but if this places an undue burden on the patient, a goal of <140 mm Hg also provides benefit.

Clinicians require clear direction about optimal BP targets, how best to adjust antihypertensive medications for comorbidities, and how to incorporate frailty and cognitive impairment into management strategies. This article presents recommendations derived from recent evidence and consensus guidelines regarding the management of hypertension in adults ≥75 years of age.

Diagnosing hypertension

According to the seventh report of the Joint National Committee (JNC 7), hypertension is defined as a systolic BP ≥140 mm Hg and/or a diastolic BP ≥90 mm Hg.8 The JNC’s more recent report (JNC 8), however, does not define hypertension; instead, it sets forth treatment thresholds (eg, that there is strong evidence to support treating individuals ≥60 years of age when BP ≥150/90 mm Hg).9

It starts with an accurate BP measurement. Ensuring the accuracy of a BP measurement requires multiple readings over time. White coat hypertension and masked hypertension can complicate BP measurement. Home measurements better correlate with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) risk than do office measurements.10-12 In fact, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends obtaining measurements outside of the clinic setting prior to initiating treatment for hypertension.13

Hypertension evaluations: What to include image

Educate staff on the proper technique for obtaining BP measurements in the office (ie, taking measurements using an appropriately sized cuff when patients have been seated for at least 5 minutes with feet uncrossed and with their arm supported at heart level). Cold temperatures, coffee consumption, talking, and recent tobacco use can transiently raise BP. TABLE 110 outlines the initial work-up after confirming the diagnosis of hypertension. No other routine tests are recommended for the management of hypertension except those associated with medication monitoring (outlined in TABLE 210,11,14,15).

How  to monitor for common antihypertensive adverse effects image

What’s the optimal BP target for older patients? No consensus exists on an optimal BP target for older patients. JNC 8 recommends a target BP <150/90 mm Hg in patients ≥60 years of age.9 The American College of Physicians recommends a systolic BP target <140 mm Hg in patients ≥60 years of age with increased stroke or CV risk.11 A subgroup analysis of patients ≥75 years of age from the Systolic BP Intervention Trial (SPRINT)3 was stopped early because of the clear composite CV and mortality benefits associated with targeting a systolic BP <120 mm Hg as compared with <140 mm Hg (TABLE W13-6). Although a criticism of this trial and its results is that the researchers included only adults with high CV risk, all adults ≥75 years of age are considered to have high CV risk by the SPRINT study.3 Another criticism is that early suspension of the trial may have exaggerated treatment effects.6

Studies support the benefits of hypertension management in the elderly image

Lastly, results were seemingly discrepant from previous trials, most notably, the Action to Control CV Risk in Diabetes (ACCORD) trial.6,16 However, on closer review, the ACCORD trial16 included only patients with DM, while the SPRINT3 trial excluded patients with DM, and ACCORD comprised a younger population than the SPRINT subgroup analysis. Also, the ACCORD trial did demonstrate stroke reduction and non-significant reduction in CV events, albeit, at the cost of increased adverse events, such as hypotension, bradycardia, and hypokalemia, with tighter BP control.16

Common pharmacotherapeutic contributors to uncontrolled BP include NSAIDs, glucocorticoids, high-dose decongestants, and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.

Population differences presumably explain the discrepancy in results, and a systolic BP target of <120 mm Hg is appropriate in community-dwelling, non-diabetic adults ≥75 years of age. If this target goal cannot be achieved without undue burden (ie, without syncope, hypotension, bradycardia, electrolyte disturbance, renal impairment, or substantial medication burden), a recent meta-analysis found evidence that a systolic BP goal <140 mm Hg also provides benefit.6

Next Article:

Related Articles