High blood pressure has been redefined for the first time in 14 years. Baptist Health cardiologist Dr. Anthony Fletcher explains.
Q. What are the new numbers?
High blood pressure is now defined as readings of 130 and higher for the systolic blood pressure measurement, or readings of 80 and higher for the diastolic measurement. That is a change from the old definition of 140/90 and higher, reflecting complications that can occur at those lower numbers.
Q. Why make these changes?
High blood pressure accounts for the second largest number of preventable heart disease and stroke deaths, second only to smoking. It’s known as the “silent killer” because often there are no symptoms, despite its role in significantly increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke.
Q. Does this mean that more people will start taking blood pressure medication?
While about 14 percent more people will be diagnosed with high blood pressure and counseled about lifestyle changes, there will only be a small increase in those who will be prescribed medication. By lowering the definition of high blood pressure, the guidelines recommend earlier intervention and stressing lifestyle changes to prevent further increases in blood pressure and the complications of hypertension.
Q. Is there an age group that you think the new guidelines will impact more?
The impact of the new guidelines is expected to be greatest among younger people. The prevalence of high blood pressure is expected to triple among men under age 45, and double among women under 45 according to the report.
Q. How many people will this ultimately impact?
Rather than 1 in 3 U.S. adults having high blood pressure with the previous definition, the new guidelines will result in nearly half of the U.S. adult population (46 percent) having high blood pressure. However, there will only be a small increase in the number of U.S. adults who will require blood pressure medication. These guidelines are designed to help people address the potentially deadly condition much earlier. We want the opportunity to reduce blood pressure with healthy lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.