The proportion of the elderly population is rapidly growing, increasing the numbers of hypertensive patients and the workload in primary care. The average GP will currently have around 100 hypertensive patients over the age of 75 years in their care; this number is likely to be much higher in popular retirement areas. Clinical trials have shown the benefits of vigorous blood pressure control in the elderly; current recommendations are to reduce blood pressure to under 140/85 mmHg in at-risk groups and to under 130/80 mmHg in diabetics. Hypertension treatment continues to be difficult, however, due to poor compliance. This is for a number of reasons, including the fact that it is often a symptomless condition, the side effects of antihypertensive medication and the number of concomitant medical conditions making drug regimes complicated in the elderly. Newer classes of antihypertensive agents, such as beta blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor antagonists, are proving to reduce other risks as well as reducing blood pressure. Angiotensin II receptor antagonists appear to be better tolerated than other antihypertensive drugs; clinical trial results are awaited to assess their protective effects as well as their effect on quality of life, health economics and cost-effectiveness.
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