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What's Up Magazine

A New Look at Old Blood Pressure Guidelines

Apr 01, 2018 07:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo
By Kelsey Casselbury

If you thought you didn’t suffer from hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, maybe you should check again. Late in 2017, the American Heart Association and 10 other medical groups changed what it means to have hypertension, reducing the systolic/diastolic pressures threshold from 140/90 to 130/80. With that switch, the number of American adults who officially have high blood pressure increased from 72 million to a whopping 103 million, or 46 percent. (For reference, normal blood pressure is considered 120/80 or below.) 

The AHA didn’t do this, however, to increase the number of people taking blood pressure medication, but rather to catch people before their numbers get too high. In the early stages, high blood pressure can be much more easily controlled through lifestyle changes, such as a healthier diet and more exercise. In fact, despite the significant uptick in people who will be diagnosed with the disease, only approximately 4.2 million additional people will be candidates for drug treatment. The guidelines recommend prescribing medication for those with “Stage I hypertension”—that is, between 130/80 and 140/90—only if the patient is at high risk for a heart
attack or stroke (or has already experienced one of these events) or has diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

Why is high blood pressure such a big deal? Hypertension is known as the “silent killer,” quietly damaging your blood cells and upping your risk of everything from stroke to vision loss to heart attack to sexual dysfunction.  

Even with these new guidelines, health is never one-size-fits-all. To help people get started taking charge of their blood pressure health, AHA is promoting its Check.Change.Control. Calculator (, which allows patients to self-monitor their blood pressure and better understand what disease they might be at risk for. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Consider these new guidelines that ounce of prevention—now it’s up to you and your doctor to work on that pound of cure. 

How to Ward off Hypertension
When it comes to keeping your blood pressure at the right levels, a good diet and regular exercise are key. In fact, at least 30 minutes a day of physical activity can lower your blood pressure by 4 to 9 mm Hg. Here’s some other ways you can ward off high blood pressure: 

Keep track of your waistline measurements. Risk of high blood pressure drastically increases if a man’s waist is greater than 40 inches or a woman’s is bigger than 35 inches.
Start following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which is low in sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol and rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. Cutting the amount of sodium you consume, even slightly, can reduce blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg. 
Think about how much alcohol you drink, whether it’s none at all or far too much. In small amounts, alcohol can lower your blood pressure by 2 to 4 mm Hg; however, you lose that protective effect when you have more than one drink per day (for women) or two drinks a day (for men).