New Blood Pressure Guidelines Should Clarify Your Status — What To Do About It

From the Huffington Post, A message from Nancy Brown, Contributor and CEO, American Heart Association

There’s a new way to classify blood pressure readings, and the biggest change is for anyone who’s been described as “prehypertensive” or “high normal.”

Millions of Americans earned those labels for having a top number of 120-139 or a bottom number of 80-89. They were encouraged to make lifestyle changes that would drop those numbers into the comfort zone of being below 120/80.

Under new guidelines released Monday, the warning zone for adults, now called “elevated blood pressure,” is trimmed to 120-129 for the top number. Anyone with 130-139 on top or in the 80s on the bottom is now considered to have high blood pressure – or, more formally, Stage 1 hypertension.

While this is likely to swell the ranks of people with hypertension from roughly 1-in-3 to nearly 1-in-2, that’s good news because it means we will begin to protect people earlier in their lives, rather than coming in after more serious damage has been done. In most cases, the prescription for getting those BP readings under control is moving more and eating and drinking less of the things you already know aren’t good for you.

“Our best estimate is that antihypertensive drug therapy, in addition to lifestyle change, will only be necessary in about 20 percent of those with Stage 1 hypertension,” said Dr. Paul Whelton, chairman of the writing committee that updated the guidelines and an epidemiology professor at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

“We’re saying that Stage 1 is the point at which we should be more aggressive in attacking hypertension,” Whelton said. “It’s no longer smart to call someone pre-anything. They need to bring their numbers down because even at that stage they have double the risk for cardiovascular events – like a heart attack or stroke – compared to people with a lower pressure.”

The other notable change is that Stage 2 now starts at 140 and 90 – which had been the starting point of high blood pressure. Stage 2 used to begin at 160 and 100.

Blood pressure is the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels. When it’s consistently too high, it can damage the delicate tissues inside the arteries – reducing their ability to help the vessels widen or dilate when they need to, and further raising the blood pressure. It’s a vicious cycle than can lead to all sorts of devastating complications: heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, problems with blood flow to your legs and your kidneys, and vision problems. It can even lead to sexual dysfunction.

High blood pressure is often called a “silent killer” because we often don’t know the damage until it’s too late.

And that’s a big focus of these guidelines – helping people get things under control earlier.

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