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The percentage of Americans with high blood pressure jumped from 32 percent to 46 percent today, when the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology issued new guidelines for the condition.
But that doesn’t mean that all those people suddenly need to be on blood pressure medication, our experts say.
On Monday, the AHA and ACC redefined high blood pressure as a reading of at least 130 millimeters of mercury for the systolic (top) number or 80 for the diastolic (bottom) number. Previously, the cutoffs had been a top number of 140 and a lower number of 90.
The new definition will especially affect younger people, tripling the number or men under age 45 considered to have hypertension and doubling the number of women under age 45 with that condition.
The new definition also eliminates the category of “pre-hypertension,” which had been considered an upper reading in the 130s and a lower reading in the 80s.
“We now know that a blood pressure level between 130-139/80-89 doubles your risk of cardiovascular complications such as a heart attack compared to people whose blood pressure is under 120/80,” says Paul Whelton, M.D., lead author of the guidelines and the Show Chwan professor of global public health at the Tulane University School of Public Health in New Orleans. That’s because damage to blood vessels begins as soon as blood pressure is elevated.
For most people who find themselves in that range, however, changes in diet and exercise routine—not drugs—are what’s needed to bring those numbers back down to normal.
Understanding the New Guidelines
The new guidelines put blood pressure readings in five different categories:
• Normal. A top number less than 120 and a bottom number less than 80.
• Elevated. A top number between 120 and 129, and a bottom number less than 80.
• Stage 1. A top number between 130 and 139, or a bottom number between 80 and…