How the New Blood Pressure Guidelines Affect You

It can often be difficult to keep up with important personal health information, like systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings, HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, fasting blood sugar, and so on, but it becomes increasingly difficult when organizations change their recommendations. Although they’re frustrating at times, these changes are made to prevent illness and/or increase awareness.

At the end of 2017, the American Heart Association (AHA) released new definitions for normal, elevated and high blood pressure, lowering the threshold for what is considered hypertension and eliminating the category of prehypertension. The previous standard for high blood pressure was 140/90, but the AHA is now considering anyone with a reading of 130/80 to be in the danger zone.

Categories for the new blood pressure definitions are as follows:

Arash Tirandaz, M.D., internist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Plano, says he sees no issue with the new standard, as high blood pressure has become such a significant public health problem.

“Heart disease is very common, so we all need to have better blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and eat healthier,” he says. “One has to look at all the risk factors for a patient before prescribing medication (due to the new guidelines), but in general we are all getting bigger, our blood pressure is going higher and too many of us die from a heart attack.”

The AHA acknowledges that while nearly one-third of the U.S. population (32 percent) was considered to have high blood pressure under the previous guidelines, the new definition will include almost half of all American adults (46 percent). The organization’s intent in changing the definition was not to push more patients toward medication, but to encourage early detection, lifestyle changes and treatment when necessary.

Known as the “silent killer” because of the often symptom-free damage it causes, high blood pressure contributes to heart failure and attack, stroke, kidney disease or failure, vision loss and other serious health issues. Hypertension is second only to smoking in contributing to preventable heart disease and stroke, so physicians are hoping to sound the alarm for younger patients. In fact, the new guidelines are expected to triple the number of men under 45 considered hypertensive and double among women under 45.

With nearly half of the American adult population now considered in the danger zone for high blood pressure, it’s important to know the common risk factors and simple ways to lower blood pressure.

The following hereditary and physical factors can contribute to hypertension:

  • Family history: parents or close relatives with high blood pressure can indicate increased risk
  • Age: the likelihood of high blood pressure increases with age
  • Gender: men are more likely than women to have hypertension until the age of 64, when it becomes more common for women
  • Race: African-Americans are more likely to have hypertension than patients with other racial backgrounds and more likely to experience severe hypertension and may be less likely to respond to treatment
  • Chronic kidney disease: kidney disease can contribute to high blood pressure, which in turn may cause additional damage to the kidneys

While we can’t do much about our family health history, age or sex, there are several common risk factors we can control. The following risk factors can be lessened or eliminated to improve health outcomes:

  • Inadequate levels of physical activity
  • A poor diet, especially one high in sodium
  • Obesity
  • High alcohol consumption
  • Smoking/tobacco use
  • Sleep apnea
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • High stress levels

If you now fall within the range of elevated or high blood pressure, it may be time to start checking your blood pressure regularly at home. The AHA recommends regular monitoring with an automatic, cuff-style bicep monitor after you have consulted with your doctor to ensure you’re using it correctly.

Tirandaz says patients can follow a few simple steps to improve overall health.

“Ultimately it is all about diet,” he says. “We all need to lose weight, reduce salt intake and reduce processed food in our systems. We need to exercise more and some people need blood pressure medicine. It is also very important for patients do annual physical exams.”

To schedule a wellness visit (and have your blood pressure checked) with your primary physician, visit Texas Health Physicians Groups’ “Find-a-Physician” tool. Simply choose the specialty, type in your ZIP code and select a range. Once a list of physicians appears, you can click on a physician and access contact information, education background and a list of insurance plans the doctor accepts.

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