Isolated systolic hypertension: A health concern?

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Isolated systolic hypertension: A health concern?


Is having a high systolic (top number) blood pressure, but a normal diastolic (bottom number) cause for concern?

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Yes. If you have a diastolic number — the bottom number of a blood pressure measurement — less than 90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and a systolic number — the top number of a blood pressure measurement — greater than 140 mm Hg, you have a common type of high blood pressure called isolated systolic hypertension. Isolated systolic hypertension can be caused by underlying conditions such as a leaky heart valve or an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).

For years, doctors focused primarily on diastolic blood pressure. The theory was that the body could tolerate occasional increases in systolic blood pressure, but consistently high diastolic pressure could lead to health problems. However, doctors now know that high systolic pressure is as important as high diastolic pressure — and even more important in people older than age 50.

The recommended goal for systolic pressure is less than 140 mm Hg. For people who are 80 or older, the target systolic pressure ranges from 140 to 145 mmHg. In people with isolated systolic hypertension, treatment may lower diastolic pressure too much, potentially increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. So if you have isolated systolic hypertension, your doctor may recommend that your diastolic pressure not be reduced to less than 70 mm Hg in trying to reach your target systolic pressure.

Isolated systolic hypertension, when combined with other risk factors such as poor diet and lack of exercise, can lead to serious health problems, such as:

  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Dementia
Last Updated: 2012-02-14
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