Your blood pressure goal: A personalized balancing act

Experts are divided on optimal blood pressure targets but agree that an individual approach is the best strategy.

There's no debate about the dangers of high blood pressure. Dubbed the "silent killer," high blood pressure usually has no symptoms. Yet this common condition damages blood vessels throughout the body, raising the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and other problems.

But exactly when to start drug therapy for high blood pressure and how aggressive that treatment should be — especially in older people — has been a matter of some dispute in recent years. Some studies suggest that aiming for a stricter (that is, lower) blood pressure target than the current guidelines recommend can substantially reduce a person's risk of cardiovascular complications (see: "Blood pressure research and guidelines: A moving target?"). Other studies offer evidence that a more relaxed (that is, higher) target makes more sense for most people, given the potential harms of drug side effects such as fatigue and coughing, as well as low blood pressure, which can cause lightheadedness and fainting.

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