What Do the New Blood Pressure Guidelines Mean for You?

New blood pressure guidelines implemented by the American Heart Association (AHA) and American College of Cardiology (ACC) put nearly half of the U.S. adult population in the range for high blood pressure.

The AHA/ACC recommends patients at 130/80 mm HG—rather than the previous 140/90—be treated with lifestyle changes and perhaps medication to detect, prevent, manage and treat high blood pressure and potential risks that come with it.

“The American Heart Association as well as the American College of Cardiology thought the guidelines should be updated because high blood pressure has significant risk factors for heart disease, cardiovascular (problems) as well as stroke,” said Zakaria Sheikhaden, DO, a cardiologist at ProMedica Physicians Cardiology in Monroe, Michigan. “Studies have shown that if you’re more aggressive with blood pressure, they do better than when you’re more liberal with the number.”

Sheikhaden said the guidelines may be a moving number in the coming years, as patients are monitored to see how they fare with the new regulations in place. He also stressed that a one-time reading that may place a person in the high blood pressure range does not mean they should reach for the panic button. The numbers may be higher in a doctor’s office than in the home due to any stress the subject may have due to visiting a physician or hospital. For this reason, it is important to get readings in two settings.

Quitting smoking, reducing stress and decreasing sodium intake are three lifestyle modifications you can make to reduce high blood pressure.

When it comes to treatment of high blood pressure, lifestyle modification, such as quitting smoking, reducing stress and decreasing sodium intake, are typically recommended first. However, another potential result of the new guidelines is that more patients would be on medication, said Sheikhaden.

“Those medications can have side effects, and they would need to be monitored closely,” he said, noting the potential benefits of patients being more proactive of their health would likely outweigh the drawbacks.

“The biggest thing is they need to get to their family doctor,” he said. “Their physician can talk about their risk of heart disease, stroke or diabetes. At that time, we can tailor a plan for them. If they’re low risk, we could always try diet and weight loss. If they’re at high risk, then at that time we’re discussing the combination of medication as well as lifestyle modifications.”

For patients under the age of 45, the AHA and ACC predict high blood pressure will triple for men and double for women.

“For those with high blood pressure under 30 years of age, it’s a sign that we have to look at other reversible or secondary causes for heart disease,” he said, noting that obesity and smoking are the two biggest factors that can be modified.

Sheikhaden said those finding themselves suddenly in the range for high blood pressure need not feel overwhelmed, but rather use it to take a more active role in minimizing future health concerns.

“This is just another vital sign we look for health improvement. You can use it as a positive way to get to be healthier rather than become upset or depressed about it,” he said.

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