High blood pressure, often referred to as the “silent killer,” is a leading cause of heart attack and stroke in North America. In fact, it is one of the most common preventable causes of heart disease – which remains the number one cause of death for Americans – second only to smoking.
Past guidelines have advised individuals to check their blood pressure often, as part of routine preventative health care, and to track the results. The “high range” for blood pressure was traditionally 140/90 and a cause for concern worth visiting a doctor to discuss. However, recent revisions to the guidelines made by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have resulted in a lower threshold in what is considered “high.”
About High Blood Pressure
According to an article posted by the Toronto Star, “high blood pressure will [now] be defined as 130/80 millimeters of mercury or greater,” a change that will affect tens of millions of Americans who will now meet the criteria for the condition, and “will need to change their lifestyles or take medicines to treat it.”
High blood pressure is a very common health condition, affecting more than half of American adults. Just because it is common, however, does not make it any less harmful.
If you have high blood pressure, your heart is working extra hard to pump blood throughout your body, which can cause your arteries to become less elastic and scarred. Over time, untreated high blood pressure can cause your arteries to stiffen, and your heart to become stiffer and weaker, resulting in a possible heart attack, kidney failure or stroke.
High blood pressure is especially dangerous because many people do not experience known symptoms. The “silent killer” can be wreaking havoc on your body without you knowing anything’s wrong. The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that people often believe the myth that high blood pressure will display symptoms such as “nervousness, sweating, difficulty sleeping or facial flushing.” This is simply not true.
According to the AHA, “If you ignore your blood pressure because you think a certain symptom or sign will alert you to the problem, you are taking a dangerous chance with your life.”
Who Is Affected by the New Guidelines?
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology announced changes to the previous high blood pressure guidelines (which had not been revised since 2003) largely because of convincing data from a federal study published in 2015. The Toronto Star refers to the study, called Sprint, which compared “the safety and efficacy of intensive lowering of systolic blood pressure to <120 mm Hg versus routine management to <140 mm Hg.” The results showed overwhelming evidence of “significant cardiovascular benefit.”
The new guidelines affect every single adult in North America. Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at Yale University told the Toronto Star that “this is a big change that will end up labeling many more people with hypertension and recommending drug treatment for many more people.”
Here are some of the most startling statistics associated with the new guidelines:
- The number of adults with high blood pressure will rise from 72 million to 103 million
- The number of men younger than 45 with a diagnosis of high blood pressure will triple
- The prevalence of high blood pressure among women younger than 45 will double
Ways to Prevent and Treat High Blood Pressure
Although there is no cure for high blood pressure, it is highly treatable with medication and lifestyle changes, including eating a healthier diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and exercising more.
Lifestyle changes that may decrease blood pressure include:
- Avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages. Choose safe drinking water, low-fat milk or tea instead.
- Being active for 30-60 minutes most days of the week.
- Being smoke-free. Smoking increases the risk of developing heart problems and other diseases.
- Choosing fruit or low-fat foods as desserts and snacks.
- Consuming less salt.
- If you are overweight, losing at least 10 lbs. Reducing your weight to within a healthy range for your age and gender will lower your blood pressure even more.
- Limiting alcohol to no more than 2 drinks a day, to a weekly maximum of 10 for women and 3 drinks a day to a weekly maximum of 15 for men.
- Monitoring your blood pressure regularly and taking your medication as prescribed.
Will you be diagnosed with high blood pressure under these new guidelines? What are your thoughts on the guideline update? We’d like to hear more from you in the comments below.