The new high in blood pressure

You might have heard – there is a new “high” in blood pressure. The new guidelines were recently announced at an American Heart Association meeting. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is now defined as a reading of 130 over 80 – down from 140 over 90.

The new guidelines mean that about 30 million Americans became newly diagnosed with high blood pressure – practically overnight. This means that now nearly half of all American adults, and almost 80 percent of those aged 65 and older, will need to take steps to reduce their blood pressure.

High blood pressure puts people at risk for stroke, heart attacks, peripheral vascular disease and death.

The changes in guidelines are a result of experts realizing that the previous “normal” blood pressure range actually placed the patient at risk for heart disease, disability and death.  The risk hasn’t changed, what changed was the recognition of the risk.

Washington University cardiologist, Andrew Kates, MD, explains how the new guidelines will affect patients. “Many people who are newly classified as hypertensive can bring down their blood pressure through lifestyle changes. These changes include weight loss, exercise, sodium and alcohol restriction, smoking cessation and stress reduction.

Those with stage one hypertension (130 to 139 over 80 to 89) who don’t see an improvement in three to six months of making lifestyle changes may need to consider medication.

Stage two hypertension is now defined with blood pressure of 140 over 90, or higher. People with stage two should, in general, be on medication.”

There are many factors that cause high blood pressure. These include genetics, poor diet, smoking and lack of exercise. 

Dr. Kates says, “It is a challenge for doctors to convince patients who feel fine, but have high blood pressure, to take medication. That is why high blood pressure is known as the silent killer. People might feel like they are failures if they need medications to treat blood pressure. But our goal, as physicians, is to help people live longer and healthier lives.”

Blood pressure should be checked at least once a year. High blood pressure is only diagnosed after several readings on multiple occasions. Some people actually have “white coat syndrome.” This means that their blood pressure is higher in a doctor’s office or medical setting. These people should try at-home or automatic blood pressure cuffs found in pharmacies and grocery stores. They should also sit quietly for a few minutes before taking their blood pressure in order to get a more accurate reading.

“Know your numbers,” adds Dr. Kates, “it can save your life.”

To make an appointment to see Dr. Kates or another Washington University cardiologist, please call 314-362-1291.

Heart & Vascular Center
Center for Advanced Medicine
4921 Parkview Place, Suite 8B
St. Louis, MO 63110

Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital
Medical Building Three
1020 N. Mason Road, Suite 100
St. Louis, MO 63141