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Hypertension drugs may raise need for fall prevention

February 23, 2015
hypertension may cause falls

Fall prevention programs in the elderly are essential in the care of patients, regardless of whether they stay in the acute care or long-term care setting. When assessing senior citizens' risk of accidental falls, health care providers need to assess several factors, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: vision problems, environmental tripping hazards, muscle strength, balance and coordination, and any prescription medications.

When it comes to this last factor, new research from the Yale School of Medicine suggests that hypertension drugs significantly increase older adults' risks for accidental falls, as published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

'Medications may be more harmful'

The CDC estimated that 31 percent of adults in the U.S. live with hypertension, totaling 67 million individuals. The risk for this chronic condition, which raises the likelihood of heart disease and stroke, increases as adults age. The medications doctors prescribe to lower blood pressure had previously been deemed generally safe for senior citizens, but this may only be true for patients who are considered otherwise healthy. These drugs may be linked to potential problems in older patients who are living with other chronic conditions.

To investigate further, the research team from Yale followed more than 4,900 individuals, all older than 70 years, for three years. While 14 percent of these study participants did not take drugs for high blood pressure, 55 percent required moderate doses and 31 percent needed high doses. By the end of the study period, the scientists observed that falls were more likely to happen among subjects on hypertension medications than among those who were not. These results are important considering that accidental falls can lead to complications, such as hip fractures, brain injuries, functional decline and premature death.

"Although no single study can settle the question and we cannot exclude the possibility that factors other than the medications accounted for the increased risk of injury, these medications may be more harmful in some individuals than thought," said lead researcher Mary Tinetti, M.D.

Ultimately, the study suggests that it is important for patients and health care providers to work together in weighing the risks and benefits of taking, or not taking, medications to treat high blood pressure. If accidental falls are a genuine concern, the conversation can touch upon how to handle fall prevention with the most appropriate medical solutions and exercises.

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