Is your blood pressure through the roof these days? You aren’t alone. Based on new high blood pressure guidelines published by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, almost half of US adults have high blood pressure (hypertension).

High blood pressure is second only to smoking in causing heart disease and stroke. The “silent killer” often does its damage asymptomatically. That means that early diagnosis and treatment is crucial in stopping the damage hypertension causes.

The new guidelines change the threshold for the diagnosis of hypertension from a resting blood pressure of 140/90 to 130/80; they also eliminate the diagnosis of “prehypertension.” Doctors hope the lower threshold will encourage patients whose blood pressure runs even a little high to take action through diet and lifestyle changes and consultation with their physician. The guidelines’ changes particularly impact younger people with elevated blood pressure who were previously classified as having prehypertension. By clearly stating that even a small rise in blood pressure can be debilitating, doctors hope to detect and address high blood pressure in their patients earlier than ever.

What this means for hypertension

Hypertension doubles your risk of cardiovascular problems, said the lead author of the new guidelines, Dr. Paul K. Whelton of Tulane University. “We want to be straight with people – if you already have a doubling of risk, you need to know about it. It doesn’t mean you need medication, but it’s a yellow light that you need to be lowering your blood pressure, mainly with non-drug approaches,” Whelton stated.

Doctors expect the new guidelines will result in an increase of about 14% in the diagnosis of hypertension, mostly among patients aged 45 and younger. They don’t expect to see a similar rise in the prescription of anti-hypertensive medication, though. Early diagnosis means more cases will be treatable with diet and lifestyle changes instead of medication.

The new guidelines were presented at the American Heart Association’s annual Scientific Sessions conference in Anaheim, CA, on November 13. They were written by a panel of 21 scientists and experts who reviewed more than 900 published studies. The last time the guidelines for the treatment of hypertension were updated was 2003.

Need some help managing your high blood pressure? Start by consulting your physician, and take a look at the resources available at The American Heart Association.

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