What the New Blood Pressure Guidelines Mean for Millions of Americans
December 6, 2017
When it comes to blood pressure levels, people have long been told that aiming for anything below 140/90 is sufficient for avoiding hypertension, or high blood pressure. However, the American Heart Association (AHA) has joined with the American College of Cardiology (ACC) for the first time in 14 years to release new blood pressure guidelines, which means that millions of Americans may soon be diagnosed with elevated blood pressure or various stages of hypertension.
A person’s blood pressure is taken to determine how much pressure is being exerted on arteries and blood vessels while the heart is relaxed as well as when it is beating. The first number in a blood pressure reading is the diastolic count, or the amount of pressure exerted while a person’s heart is relaxed. The systolic measurement has to do with the pressure exerted while a person’s heart is beating. A person has high blood pressure when their heart is over-exerted when pumping blood through narrowed arteries.
There are two main types of high blood pressure: primary – or “essential” – hypertension and secondary hypertension. Essential hypertension typically develops slowly over the years and is not tied to any easily identifiable cause. Secondary hypertension, however, tends to develop because of another condition, and can also cause sudden, extremely elevated readings. There are many conditions that are linked to secondary hypertension, such as certain thyroid disorders, various kidney problems, obstructive sleep apnea and some congenital (birth) defects.
According to the new guidelines from the ACC and AHA, people with systolic and diastolic readings between 130/80 and 139/89 will be diagnosed with stage 1 hypertension, and individuals with readings above 140/90 will be diagnosed with stage 2 hypertension. In fact, the new guidelines encourage anyone with a reading above 120/80 to take precautionary measures, such as making lifestyle and dietary changes, in order to combat the possible medical and heart health complications that often come with elevated blood pressure levels. As always, it is important to speak directly with a medical professional before making any lifestyle and diet changes.
Having high blood pressure can cause numerous medical problems, some of which can require surgery, long-term treatment or even be fatal. The Mayo Clinic reports that some of the most common complications from uncontrolled, high blood pressure are:
- Heart attack;
- Weakening the blood vessels in the brain, which can lead to a rupture, leak or dangerous narrowing;
- Kidney failure and other problems;
- Cognitive defects;
- Sexual dysfunction (primarily in women), and:
- Eye damages (retinal fluid buildup, nerve damage, etc.)
The authors of the new guidelines warn that the number of Americans diagnosed with high blood pressure is about to make a big jump: from 32% to 46% – that’s nearly one-half of the entire U.S. population. For people who fall into the 120/80-129/80 blood pressure range, the authors recommend having a chat with a doctor to decide what steps may be best to take. What doctors do know is that avoiding smoking, eating a healthy diet (e.g. fruits, vegetables and whole grains), exercising, reducing stress and limiting how much salt is consumed are all effective ways that a person can help reduce risks for developing hypertension.
Certain people are at a higher risk than others for developing high blood pressure. Although the National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that anyone can develop hypertension, chances for developing it increase for everyone as they age. In fact, approximately 65% of all people age 60-years-old and above are hypertensive. Before the age of 55 however, men are more likely to develop hypertension than women are. African Americans are affected by hypertension at a disproportionately high rate compared to individuals of other races. Data also shows that individuals with a family history of hypertension are at a greater risk, as well as people who are overweight or obese.
Although high blood pressure can cause serious medical complications – even death – lots of people don’t know they have it because they don’t show any signs or symptoms. Even some individuals with consistently high blood pressure readings fail to show signs outside of the actual test results. However, some individuals with extremely high blood pressure may experience headaches, nosebleeds or shortness of breath. If you have high blood pressure and are exhibiting any of those symptoms, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital right away. Because people are likely to be asymptomatic, staying up-to-date with doctor’s visits and discussing ways to control or inhibit dangers – especially if you do have high blood pressure or have a family history of hypertension – is extremely important for maintaining good cardiac health.
The ACC and AHA created the new guidelines after years of close observation of mortality levels in individuals with both primary and secondary hypertension. They found that when people are diagnosed and treated early, fewer die. The authors also note that less than 2% of newly diagnosed individuals will require medications to control their blood pressure levels – instead, the majority of individuals will simply be advised to make certain lifestyle and dietary changes to reach ideal target readings.
Under the new guidelines, many people without a previous medical diagnosis of stage 1 and 2 hypertension may be shocked to find out that it’s necessary to make lifestyle changes or even take medications in order to regulate their blood pressure. Luckily, there are many steps that individuals can take – under the direct care of their doctor – to decrease the likelihood of developing further complications. If you believe you may have high blood pressure and would like to learn more about the new guidelines, you may do so here: https://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/ten-points-to-remember/2017/11/09/11/41/2017-guideline-for-high-blood-pressure-in-adults.
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