As we get older, so does our body. This often manifests as creaking or aching joints, wrinkled skin, forgetfulness, etc. But did you know that your blood pressure (BP) can change as you age? Yes, ageing can affect your blood vessels and heart too, which can result in BP variations. Even more interestingly, these changes can be different in men and women. In this article, you will learn more about how ageing and gender can affect your blood pressure levels.
Blood pressure is the force exerted by your blood on the inner walls of your arteries as it flows through them. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Your heart pumps blood by ‘beating’, i.e. contracting and relaxing, which pushes blood out from your heart, through the arteries and to your organs, muscles, tissues, etc.
Blood pressure is measured using a sphygmomanometer or a digital BP monitor. The units of measurement for blood pressure are millimeters of mercury or mm Hg, as manual sphygmomanometers use mercury to gauge blood pressure readings.
Your blood pressure readings will have two numbers - the upper or ‘systolic’ reading and the lower or ‘diastolic’ reading.
The following is the blood pressure range chart as defined by the American Heart Association (AHA) and National Health Services (NHS) UK.
|Category||Systolic Blood Pressure (in mm Hg)||Diastolic Blood pressure (in mm Hg)|
|Hypotension||< 90||< 60|
|Normal||90 to 120||60 to 80|
|Elevated Blood Pressure||120 to 129||< 80|
|Hypertension Stage 1||130 to 139||80 to 89|
|Hypertension Stage 2||> 140||> 90|
|Hypertensive Crisis||> 180||> 120|
The normal blood pressure for healthy adults is 120/80 mm Hg. You have hypotension if your blood pressure is below 90/60 mm Hg. Hypotension treatment may involve dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and medication.
You have hypertension if your blood pressure is above 130/80 mm Hg. Hypertension is divided into various stages depending on the degree of blood pressure elevation. If you have Stage 1 Hypertension, your doctor would recommend dietary and lifestyle changes like exercise to bring it down to normal. Treatment of Stage 2 Hypertension includes medical intervention along with lifestyle changes.
As you age, your body undergoes physiological changes. Your blood vessels that are made up of smooth, flexible muscles start hardening in your late teen years or 20s. The changes are most often noticeable by the time you reach your 30s. Arteries become hardened and narrow due to the accumulation of plaque in the inner walls of your blood vessels. Plaque comprises the deposits of cholesterol, other fatty substances from your food, calcium, cellular debris, and a mesh-like protein called fibrin.
When blood flows through flexible arteries, they constrict and widen as necessary which keeps your blood pressure levels stable. However, as your arteries become more rigid due to aging, they stop relaxing and widening, which results in your blood exerting too much pressure as it flows through them. As you age, the plaque in your blood vessels also grows larger in size, which further narrows your arteries. This results in your blood pressure rising gradually as you grow older.
In some cases, blood flow and circulation get worse with age. This happens because your heart slowly becomes weak and tired and is unable to pump blood around your body efficiently. This leads to your blood pressure levels falling, especially when changing your posture or shifting your position too quickly. Postural hypotension is observed in about 10 to 20% of people over the age of 65 years.
Women who are premenopausal (who are still menstruating; generally under the ages of 40 to 45 years) tend to have lower blood pressure levels than men of the same age. However, after menopause (usually over the age of 50 or 55 years) women’s blood pressure levels rise, and are higher than men of the same age group.
The reasons for these changes are complex and may be related to the levels of estrogen (the primary sex and reproductive hormones in women) in women, among other factors. The presence of estrogen in premenopausal women protects them from cardiovascular problems like heart attack and stroke.
However, hormone supplementation after menopause gives mixed results in women, with blood pressure levels rising in some and falling slightly in others. Hormone replacement therapy does however increase the risk of cardiovascular events.
The blood pressure levels in women and men remain the same till puberty, at which point the levels start to differ according to gender.
As discussed above, blood pressure levels rise with age. The following table shows the normal systolic and diastolic blood pressure ranges for various age groups. If your blood pressure levels are below the minimum readings or above the maximum readings, you may experience symptoms of hypotension or hypertension respectively.
|Age||Normal Systolic Range||Normal Diastolic Range|
|0 to 1 month||45 to 80 mm Hg||30 to 55 mm Hg|
|1 to 12 months||65 to 100 mm Hg||35 to 65 mm Hg|
|1 to 5 years||80 to 115 mm Hg||55 to 80 mm Hg|
|6 to 13 years||80 to 120 mm Hg||45 to 80 mm Hg|
|14 to 18 years||90 to 120 mm Hg||50 to 80 mm Hg|
|19 to 40 years||95 to 135 mm Hg||60 to 80 mm Hg|
|41 to 60 years||110 to 145 mm Hg||70 to 90 mm Hg|
|Over 60 years||95 to 145 mm Hg||70 to 90 mm Hg|
Source: Vital Sign Measurement Across the Lifespan- 1st Canadian Edition, Jennifer L. Lapum. et al., 2019, p 123.
The following data has been compiled by researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which is a US federal agency.
The following table depicts the mean blood pressure levels for adult men.
|Age Group||Mean BP in Men|
|18 to 39 years||119/70 mm Hg|
|40 to 59 years||124/77 mm Hg|
|60+ years||133/69 mm Hg|
The following table depicts the mean blood pressure levels for adult women.
|Age Group||Mean BP in Women|
|18 to 39 years||110/68 mm Hg|
|40 to 59 years||122/74 mm Hg|
|60+ years||139/68 mm Hg|
You should consult your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms of hypotension (like dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, rapid heartbeat, fainting, etc.) or hypertension (like headache, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, chest pain, etc.). Both these conditions can be serious and cause health problems if left untreated.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or suspect that your blood pressure levels are abnormally low or elevated, consult a cardiologist immediately.
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