Blood pressure meds increase fall risk, study shows

Recent research reveals a number of drugs to be effective at treating conditions outside their intended realm. Last month, YourLifeChoices highlighted Ozempic as one such drug, with research showing it as potentially lowering the risk of heart disease. And we reported on a possible new use for aspirin as a cancer prevention drug. But there are occasions when unintended adverse effects can be uncovered, too. Such has been the case with blood pressure medication.

Analysis of records from nearly 30,000 nursing home residents suggests blood pressure medications increases the risk of life-threatening bone fractures. And it’s not just a slightly elevated risk. The research, undertaken by Rutgers Health, indicates the risk is more than double.

What’s more, the risk manifested itself quickly, with fractures occurring “within 30 days of antihypertensive [lowering blood pressure] medication initiation”.

This is a rather alarming find, given that bone fractures can trigger a rapid downward health spiral in older people. Lead author Dr Chintan Dave, academic director of the Rutgers Centre for Health Outcomes, Policy and Economics, said roughly 40 per cent of those who fracture a hip die within a year.

Why do blood pressure meds increase the risk of bone fracture?

You may have experienced the sensation of feeling faint when first standing up after a long period of lying down. It’s not an uncommon sensation by any means. Occasionally, though, it can lead to a full episode of ‘syncope’ – basically a fancy word for fainting.

The cause of syncope in such instances is usually low blood pressure. Low blood pressure can prevent blood moving efficiently to your brain. Not enough blood to the brain means not enough oxygen to the brain, a very dangerous situation. The brain copes with this by initiating syncope. You fall, and your blood is then able to move more easily to your brain.

That’s good. What isn’t good is the damage the fall might do. In older people, there’s a greater risk that the outcome will be one or more broken bones. This brings into play the so-called ‘downward spiral’ in older people. 

The role that blood pressure medications play in this clearly deserves attention. “It’s truly alarming to find that a class of medications used by 70 per cent of all nursing home residents more than doubles the bone-fracture risk,” said Dr Dave. 

Striking a balance

Of course, no-one providing blood pressure medication to patients is intending them harm – quite the opposite. But many of those doing so are not cognisant of the associated risks. “Caregivers think of blood pressure medication as very low risk,” says Dr Dave. And while that is broadly true for healthy younger people, it’s “not true in this patient population”, he says.

That’s not to say caregivers should place a blanket ban on administering blood pressure drugs. Indeed, many patients have high enough blood pressure that the benefits of treatment outweigh these dangers. The key is striking the right balance, says Dr Dave. “Such patients require careful observation, particularly when treatment begins, and that’s not happening.” 

This provides food for thought for caregivers, those receiving care, and the families of those receiving care. If blood pressure is an issue, make sure you ask for medical advice around the risk versus reward of taking blood pressure drugs.

Do you take blood pressure medication? Were you aware of the associated increased risk of falls? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Blood pressure and ageing: what’s the link?

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


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