American Heart Association Releases New High Blood Pressure Guidelines

African American senior couple in kitchen hugging with coffee mugsNearly half of American adults are at risk for major health problems because of high blood pressure, according to a new scientific guideline that redefines the dangerous condition and provides tactics for doctors to detect, treat and prevent it.

People with readings of 130 as the top number or 80 as the bottom one now are considered to have high blood pressure, according to the guideline released Monday by the American Heart Association. High blood pressure used to be defined as 140/90.

The change means 46 percent of U.S. adults are identified as having high blood pressure, compared with 32 percent under the previous definition. A blood pressure of less than 120/80 still will be considered normal, but levels at or above that, to 129, will be called “elevated.”

The new guideline is designed to help people take steps to control their blood pressure earlier, according to the authors. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world.

“Yes, we will label more people hypertensive and give more medication, but we will save lives and money by preventing more strokes, cardiovascular events and kidney failure,” said Kenneth Jamerson, M.D., Ph.D., professor of internal medicine and hypertension specialist at the University of Michigan Health System. He is one of 21 experts on the guideline writing committee. “If you are going to put money into the healthcare system, it’s to everyone’s advantage if we treat and prevent on this side of it, in early treatment.”

Still, the guideline – in the works for about three years and based on hundreds of studies and clinical trials – doesn’t suggest a massive increase in the number of people who will need to take medication to control hypertension.