For the first time since 2003, the American Heart Association is updating the comprehensive guidelines for blood pressure and hypertension.
According to a release from the AHA, patients with a blood pressure reading of 130/80 should now be considered to have hypertension, or abnormally high blood pressure. Previously, a blood pressure level of 140/90 was the baseline for being diagnosed with hypertension.
The new guidelines from the AHA mean that nearly half of all American adults — 46 percent — suffer from hypertension. By the AHA’s old standards, 32 percent of American adults suffered from high blood pressure.
“We want to be straight with people – if you already have a doubling of risk, you need to know about it,” said Dr. Paul K. Whelton, the lead author of the AHA’s new guidelines. “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.”
Despite an increase in the amount of Americans with high blood pressure, the AHA hopes their new guidelines mean there will be only a small increase in the amount of patients requiring medication. The Association now generally recommends that patients with Stage 1 hypertension only be prescribed medication in the event of a heart attack or stroke, and they’re also recommending that pharmaceutical companies combine multiple blood pressure drugs.
The AHA also hopes the new guidelines encourage patients to monitor their blood pressure at home, away from a stressful setting like a doctor’s office that can skew a single blood pressure test.
According to the AHA, the new guidelines were developed by 21 science and health experts who reviewed more than 900 published studies.
The new AHA guidelines for diagnosing hypertension are listed below.
Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg;
Elevated: Top number (systolic) between 120-129 and bottom number (diastolic) less than 80;
Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89;
Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg;
Hypertensive crisis: Top number over 180 and/or bottom number over 120, with patients needing prompt changes in medication if there are no other indications of problems, or immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage.
Alex Hider is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @alexhider.