Seniors may be more likely to take medications for diseases that produce noticeable symptoms rather than treat high blood pressure --- the "silent killer."

High blood pressure is known as the silent killer because it has no symptoms. The condition dramatically raises the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure.

"We found [in a study] that elderly high blood pressure patients with other illnesses were generally half as likely to take their medication for high blood pressure," says researcher Philip Wang, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry, medicine, and health care policy at Harvard Medical School, in a news release.

"This is a little surprising when you consider the magnitude and consistency of the effectiveness of high blood pressure medication," Wang says.

The elderly frequently suffer from more than one chronic medical condition. "Awareness needs to be raised to the fact that high blood pressure is as important to treat as more symptomatic conditions," says Wang.

Read WebMD's "High Blood Pressure: The Invisible Risk"

Blood Pressure Treatment Often Neglected

In the study, researchers analyzed information provided by more than 50,000 men and women over age 65 with high blood pressure who were enrolled in Pennsylvania's state prescription benefits program.

Researchers found that elderly people with other conditions not related to heart disease were much less likely to take their prescribed blood pressure pills.

For example, the likelihood of the elderly taking their high blood pressure medication was:

57 percent less if they had asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 50 percent less if they had depression 41 percent less if they had gastrointestinal disorders 37 percent less if they had osteoarthritis

Researchers say the results are alarming because only 60 percent of people with high blood pressure are treated, and of those only about one-third have their blood pressure levels adequately controlled.

The results are problematic in light of the very clear evidence of the benefit of high blood pressure therapy in preventing and reducing damage to multiple organs, they write.

Read WebMD's "Strategies to Prevent and Control High Blood Pressure"

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Wang, P. Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association, June 28, 2005; vol 46:pp 1-7. News release, American Heart Association.