Given the reported relationship between systolic hypertension and orthostatic hypotension in the elderly, to test the hypothesis that systolic hypertension causes impairment of the cardiovascular reflex function additional to the effects of age alone.
Responses were compared in normotensive healthy young (n = 12) and elderly (n = 15) participants and elderly participants with disproportionate supine systolic hypertension (n = 11) using a baroreceptor-mediated stress (head-up tilt) and two non-baroreceptor-mediated stimuli (cold pressor test and isometric exercise).
Blood pressure and heart rate were measured by oscillometry before and during the three stress tests. Forearm blood flow was measured by venous occlusion plethysmography and pulse wave velocity (PWV) by Doppler ultrasound.
Percentage changes in systolic/diastolic (SBP/DBP) blood pressure with head-up tilt were 0/+11, −3/0 and −6/+1 mmHg in the young and elderly normotensives and elderly systolic hypertensives, respectively. Both elderly groups had reduced DBP responses to tilt compared with the young (P<0.01). All three groups had similar percentage changes in blood pressure responses to non-baroreflex-mediated stresses (cold pressor test: +10/+23, +11/+11, +10/+15; sustained isometric exercise: +18/+33, +22/+24, +13/+17 in the young and elderly normotensives and elderly systolic hypertensives, respectively). Aorto-iliac PWV adjusted for blood pressure was significantly higher in both elderly groups compared with the young (P<0.01) but there was no difference between elderly normotensives and hypertensives. Unadjusted PWV was higher in elderly hypertensives than in elderly normotensives (P<0.05).
Compared with healthy young participants, both elderly groups had similarly attenuated blood pressure responses to tilt and reduced arterial compliance. Systolic hypertension is not associated with additional impairment of cardiovascular reflex function over and above the effects of age. The reported association between supine systolic hypertension and orthostatic hypotension does not appear to be a causative one.