When you go to the doctor, more than likely your appointment starts with a check of your vital signs – temperature, pulse, respiration rate, and blood pressure. We're all striving to fall within the healthy range in these areas. However, a recent announcement by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology changes the range for what's considered healthy. This new guideline means that 46% of Americans, nearly half the population, is now diagnosed with high blood pressure.
The New Normal
Previous guidelines define high blood pressure as a systolic reading of 140 or more and a diastolic reading of 90 or more. Systolic blood pressure, or the top number of the reading, measures the pressure of your heart as it pumps blood to your body. Diastolic blood pressure, or the bottom number of the reading, measures the lowest resting pressure of your heart between beats.
The new guidelines state that a blood pressure of 130 over 80 is now indicative of high blood pressure. In fact, this new range catapults 30 million Americans into this new category of having high blood pressure. It’s interesting to note that the 140 over 90 reading has been the threshold for high blood pressure since 1993.
However, a recent study showed that heart failure rates dropped 38% and deaths from heart-related conditions fell 43% when a patient's blood pressure was at or below 120 over 80 versus being below 140. The research studied patients 50 years or older with hypertension. This new research has even prompted some countries like Canada and Australia to make a blood pressure over 120 over 80 the guideline for high blood pressure.
What This Means for You
The new guideline means triple the number of men and double the number of women under 45 are now considered to have high blood pressure. The overarching principle for everyone is to maintain a blood pressure that's 120 over 80 or lower. Researchers estimate that almost 90% of high blood pressure cases are due to an unhealthy lifestyle. In fact, only smoking trumps high blood pressure as a cause of preventable heart disease and stroke fatalities. The good news is eating healthy, exercising, and not smoking can go a long way in helping high blood pressure. For some, medication can be an effective treatment in maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
Unfortunately, almost one-third of people with high blood pressure won't have symptoms. This is why consistent check-ups are necessary to measure blood pressure. In extreme instances of high blood pressure, a patient may experience:
- Severe headache
- Vision changes
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Bloody urine
- Pounding in the chest, neck, and/or ears