In the winter, we all take precautions to try and stay healthy and not get those annoying colds or the flu. Our thoughts tend to be on germs, not our blood pressure, but recent study results show that people with high blood pressure should take extra care in watching their blood pressure numbers in the winter. The falling temperature may cause an unhealthy rise in high blood pressure in the elderly.
The seasonal variations in blood pressure have been noted for many years, but very few studies have taken a look at these temperature-related effects in one of the most at risk populations today: the elderly. The most recent study, conducted in France, has shown that high blood pressure in the elderly varies significantly with the changing of the seasons, with rates of blood pressure results rising from 23.8 percent during the summer and 33.4 percent during the winter. The increases in blood pressure were seen in both the systolic (top) and diastolic (bottom) numbers. The categories of blood pressure are listed below, along with corresponding ranges.
Normal Below 120 Below 80
Prehypertension 120-139 80-89
Stage 1 140-159 90-99
Stage 2 160 or above 100 or above
Annick Alperovitch, M.D., who is a researcher from the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale in Paris, and his colleagues state in the Archives of Internal Medicine that most elderly people could be particularly susceptible to the temperature-related variations in high blood pressure. However, the mechanisms that could explain the association between the temperature and the high blood pressure still remain undetermined.
The researchers said that the possible explanations of the cold weather effect include activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which help our bodies control how we respond to stress, and release of a hormone called catecholamine, which could cause the rise in blood pressure by speeding up the heart rate and decreasing the responsiveness of the blood vessels.
In the new study, researchers analyzed the seasonal variation in blood pressure in approximately 8,801 adults that were over the age of 65 in France for over two years. The results showed that both the diastolic and systolic blood pressure varied with the changing of the weather. Overall, the average systolic blood pressure was 5 points higher during the winter that during the summer. However, the researchers stated that the temperature-related effects on high blood pressure were the greatest among the adults age 80 and above.
The authors of the study wrote, “Although our study does not demonstrate a causal link between blood pressure and external temperature, the observed relationship nevertheless has potentially important consequences for blood pressure management in the elderly. Because the risk of stroke or aneurysmal rupture is highest in the elderly, improved protection against these diseases by close monitoring of blood pressure and antihypertensive medication when outdoor temperature is very low could be considered.”
The researchers said that the findings could help explain the well known seasonal variations in death and illness from aneurysm, stroke, and blood vessel rupture.