Health Alert: New Blood Pressure Guidelines

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (WDTV) -- Welcome back to Health Alert! For the first time in 14 years, nearly half of U.S. adults could now be diagnosed with high blood pressure. Joining us tonight is Dr. Gerardo Lopez, M.D., cardiologist with the WVU Medicine Heart and Vascular Institute at United Hospital Center to help us to better understand what this reclassification really means.

Question: So, let me begin by having you explain the new guidelines from the American Heart Association.

Answer: The AHA and ACC have recently revised the guidelines for hypertension.

In the past, people were felt to have high blood pressure or hypertension when the BP was above 140/90. These guidelines have been changed by lowering levels at which we define someone as having hypertension. The new guidelines use 130/80 as the new standard for defining hypertension.

These revisions were made in order to treat hypertension sooner as it is a major risk factor that can lead to heart attacks and strokes, which are the leading causes of death in Americans and it is hoped that this more aggressive management of high blood pressure will result in a decrease in deaths from these two causes.

Question: Is this a real game changer for most Americans?

Answer: Absolutely. More than 100 million people are currently classified as having high blood pressure based on the prior guidelines. The new guidelines would result in a significant increase in the number of people that would fall into the classification of high blood pressure and it is estimated that as much as half of Americans will have hypertension.

It is hoped that these new aggressive definitions and treatment will help reduce heart attacks and strokes. Studies show that a 20mm HG higher SBP or a 10 mm HG higher DBP doubles your risk for death from stroke, heart attack, or vascular diseases. In other words using 130/80 as opposed to 140/90 as our definition for hypertension can reduce the risks for heart attack, stroke, and death.

Question: What can be done to see improvement in blood pressure?

Answer: Common Measures to help lower BP include weight loss, salt restriction in our diets, and routine exercise. Additionally, minimizing alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day for women and 2 a day for men will help lower your BP. Diets low in salt and saturated fat, and higher in fruits and vegetables have been shown to lower your BP. Combining all these lifestyle changes can lower your DBP as much as 2-5mm HG and your SBP as much as 4-11mm HG.

Since controlling your BP can reduce your risks for death, it is important to get checkups regularly, monitor your BP and make sure your treatment is appropriate and working. Even If you do not have HBP yet, make sure you at least get your BP checked at least every 2 years and perhaps every year if you are over 50. In general, have it checked every time you see a healthcare provider.

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Question: Why are the new BP guidelines important to West Virginians?

Answer: It is important to all Americans to try to reduce risks for cardiovascular disease and to lead healthier lifestyles, but it is especially important to us in West Virginia as our state ranks among the highest in cardiovascular disease and death from heart attacks and stroke.