Understanding the new blood pressure guidelines

Blood pressure measurement

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have issued new blood pressure guidelines that redefine high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. If your blood pressure is measured at 130/80 mm Hg or higher, you are now considered to have high blood pressure.

Blood pressure categories in the new guideline are:

  • Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg;
  • Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80;
  • Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89;
  • Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg;
  • Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120.

The benefit of this update is an awareness of cardiovascular health through early detection, proper blood pressure management and lifestyle modifications. According to George Bakris, MD, director of the Comprehensive Hypertension Center at the University of Chicago Medicine, people should “focus on their lifestyle (salt intake, sleep and exercise) as well as stop smoking… to reduce cardiovascular risk and blood pressure.”

Lifestyle changes are the foundation of therapy, not just medication. Lifestyle changes “can be as good as [taking] 1-2 blood pressure lowering medication pills,” Bakris said. Detecting pre-hypertension at an early stage, should encourage lifestyle changes that could help lower cardiovascular risks.

The important takeaway is that normal blood pressure is now considered to be 120/80 mm Hg and under. This sets the standard for cardiovascular health. Lifestyle modification is essential for individuals with pre-hypertension as well as stage one and stage two hypertension. In efforts to reduce risk, people should properly monitor their blood pressure and follow the ACC-AHA recommendations:

  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Reduce sodium intake to less than 1500 mg a day
  • Do not smoke
  • Exercise daily
  • GET adequate rest daily
  • Annually validate blood pressure monitor

Bakris and cardiologist Matthew Sorrentino, MD, associate director of the Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence at UChicago Medicine, further explain the new guidelines in the February 8, 2018, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine and how you are impacted. “According to this definition,” they wrote, “about 46% of U.S. adults have hypertension, as compared with about 32% under the previous definition.”

*Disclaimer: People with hypertension should consult their physician or health professional for best treatment for their individual needs.

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