Systolic only

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Only one number counts when you reach your half century

A new paper, written by leading hypertension experts published today in The Lancet(1), calls for measurement and diagnosis hypertension (high blood pressure) in the over fifties to be carried out using systolic blood pressure only.

The authors say that because systolic blood pressure rises with age, but diastolic blood pressure only rises until the age of 50 and then falls, that systolic blood pressure for the over fifties gives a clearer and better prediction of risk.

Responding to the authors’ recommendation that systolic blood pressure should become the sole defining feature of hypertension and key treatment target for people over the age of 50, Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of UK charity the Blood Pressure Association, said:

"Anything that makes people more aware of the dangers of high blood pressure and simplifies its detection and treatment is to be welcomed. As this paper clearly illustrates, for the over fifties only one number is important and that is the systolic pressure.

"High blood pressure is the biggest cause of death in the UK due to the strokes, heart attacks and heart failure it causes. Therefore it’s vital every adult knows what their blood pressure is, how it relates to their health and takes appropriate action to lower it.

"More than two out of three people with high blood pressure are not getting appropriate treatment. Simplifying the measurement of blood pressure in the over fifties should ensure better detection, treatment and control."


Notes to Editors:

  • The Blood Pressure Association (BPA) is the UK's leading blood pressure which provides information and support to people with high blood pressure and raises awareness to prevent the condition. Contact the BPA’s Press Office on 020 8772 4984 for more comment from the BPA.
  • Visit for the viewpoint and full news release ‘High Blood Pressure: Only One Number Matters for Patients Over 50’ or contact Tony Kirby on 020 7424 4949.
  • 140mmHg/90mmHg is the level used to diagnose high blood pressure. (NICE Guidelines 2006)
  • Blood pressure is measured in ‘millimetres of mercury’ (mmHg). When blood pressure is measured it is written as two numbers.
  • The first number is the systolic pressure, which shows the pressure in the arteries when the heart is forcing blood through them.
  • The second number is the diastolic pressure, which shows the pressure in the arteries when the heart relaxes.
  • 31 percent of men and 28 per cent of women have high blood pressure (Health Survey for England, 2006)
  • 77 percent of men and 71 per cent of women with high blood pressure are not being treated, or controlled to below 140/90mmHg. (Health Survey for England, 2006)
  • Only half of treated cases are being controlled in men and women (Health Survey for England, 2006)
  • More than 75 per cent of adults with hypertension are aged over 50. (Systolic pressure is all that matters, The Lancet, 17 June 2008)

1. 'Systolic pressure is all that matters' B. Williams, L. H Lindholm, P. Sever. www.the published online June 17, 2008. Contact Tony Kirby

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