New blood pressure guidelines recently issued by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association lowered the definition of hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. The move means nearly half of adults in the United States have hypertension.
To learn more about these new guidelines, what they mean for people and how patients can monitor their own blood pressure, we turned to University of Minnesota Health Cardiologist Kimara March, MD. March shared five things to know about the new blood pressure guidelines.
“Instead of just simply calling it pre-hypertension, they’re now saying: Yes, you have hypertension. You have a problem and we need to do something about it,” she said.
Under the new guidelines, stage 1 hypertension is now known as stage 2 hypertension. Systolic pressures between 120-129 mm Hg were also reclassified to “elevated.” The new categories are as follows:
“Your chance of dying from a heart attack or stroke is substantially increased at 130 mm Hg and you need to start making lifestyle changes to bring it down,” she said.
Lifestyle changes can include losing weight (which has a significant impact on high blood pressure), reducing salt or sodium intake, exercising, limiting alcohol and eating foods rich in potassium, March said.
“We just want to know where they are at throughout the day, so those at-home blood pressure readings are really important,” March said.
Early action to address hypertension may save lives.
The new, broader guidelines can serve as a wake-up call for those experiencing higher-than-normal blood pressures. If a person has elevated or high blood pressure, it’s important to take action. If left untreated, high blood pressure can wreak havoc on the body by gradually damaging or narrowing of the arteries, or causing an aneurysm.
“We want to raise awareness. People need to make lifestyle changes early before they’re diagnosed with hypertension so they don’t experience lasting damage to the arterial walls,” March said.
For more information, speak with your primary care provider.
If you have questions about the new guidelines, you should consider speaking with a primary care provider, March said. Because primary care providers are often evaluating a wide range of medical issues, they may gloss over higher-than-normal blood pressures.
“If you have a history of heart attack or stroke, go to your doctor and make sure your systolic blood pressure is at least less than 130—and ideally less than 120,” March said. “If your blood pressure is high, ask your doctor: Why aren’t you treating my blood pressure more aggressively based on this information?”