What New High Blood Pressure Guidelines Mean For You

Print icon

The number of Americans with high blood pressure increased dramatically Nov. 13 when the American Heart Association, the American College Cardiology and nine other groups released a new guideline on hypertension.

The standard, the first change in 14 years, is now 130/80 mm Hg, down from the guideline established in 1993, 140/90. The most obvious consequence of the new recommendations: 46 percent of U.S. adults are now considered hypertensive, compared with 32 percent under the old standard. An estimated 59 percent of African American men are now classified as having high blood pressure, an overnight increase from 42 percent.

“These new guidelines make sense because we’ve known forever that the lower your blood pressure the longer you live,” says Dr. Paul Thompson, chief of cardiology and the Athlete’s Heart Program at Hartford Hospital and co-physician-in-chief of the Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute. “Everybody should try to get their blood pressure as low as possible. We also know that the longer you live with borderline hypertension the greater the chances that you’re going to have problems with your heart as you get older.”

What’s behind the numbers? Blood pressure is the force with which blood is pumped out of the heart. Hypertension occurs when blood moves through the arteries at a higher-than-normal pressure. It is recorded as two numbers — the systolic pressure (top number) reflects the heart beating, while the diastolic pressure (bottom number) reflects pressure when the heart is relaxing between beats.

The announcement acknowledges that patients previously considered normal or pre-hypertensive were actually at risk for heart disease and even death. Yet the report forecasts the majority of people newly classified as hypertensive will actually need medication.

“If you had come into my office in the past in that 130-to-140 range,” says Dr. Thompson, “I might have left you alone, maybe told you to keep an eye on it, improve your diet or exercise more. Even though the guidelines say don’t prescribe until the patient is at 140/90, I think many doctors will.  Keep in mind these are guidelines, not rules, so it will be up to the doctor to decide.”

This is also a lifestyle alert. The lowered standard gives people a better chance address their condition with exercise, weight loss, better diet, less sodium and moderate alcohol use.

The new guidelines also includes a new category, Elevated, and reclassified Stage 1 and Stage 2 Hypertension (previous guidelines in parenthesis):

  • less than 120/less than 80: Normal (Normal).
  • 120-129/less than 80: Elevated blood pressure (Prehypertension).
  • 130-139 or 80-89: Stage 1 hypertension (Prehypertension).
  • 140-159 or 90-99: Stage 2 hypertension (Stage 1 hypertension).
  • greater-equal 160/greater-equal 100: Stage 2 hypertension (Stage 2 hypertension).

Lifestyle therapy, under the new guidelines, is likely for most people in the Elevated (120-129 systolic) and 130/80 to 139/89 range, but not those with clinical cardiovascular disease. Medication is the likely recommendation for people with Stage 2 hypertension.

Your primary care physician can help you determine whether you need lifestyle changes and/or medication for hypertension. And don’t rely on blood pressure cuffs available at supermarkets and drug stores because they are rarely calibrated properly, says Dr. Thompson. For an accurate reading, visit your health care provider.

Looking for a primary care physician? Visit the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group. To learn more about high blood pressure and heart disease, visit the Heart & Vascular Institute by clicking here


What's New

Multiple Sclerosis: New Program, New Treatments

Each week, an estimated 200 Americans are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). But new treatments bring new hope, according to neuro-immunologist Dr. Brian Wong. He is helping to launch a comprehensive multiple sclerosis program at Hartford HealthCare’s Ayer Neuroscience Institute. Q: What is neuro-immunology? A: Neuro-immunology is a subspecialty of...


E-Cigarettes & Vaping: What Parents Need to Know

More teens are vaping now than ever – and parents are concerned. Psychiatrist Dr. J. Craig Allen, medical director at Rushford, has important information for parents, teachers and anyone else with teens in their lives. Q: What do I need to be on the lookout for? A: Familiarize yourself with...

MidState Medical Center Receives Breastfeeding Award

Baby-Friendly USA recently re-designated MidState Medical Center as a Baby-Friendly birth facility. “We are proud to be recognized as a ‘Baby-Friendly’ hospital,” said Amy Kelleher, Director of Women and Infant Services at MidState Medical Center. “Our Family Birthing Center team members are committed to creating the best breast-feeding experience to...

Increased Access to Specialty Services, Growth on the Shoreline and Plainfield and Enhanced Coordination of Care Highlight Backus and Windham Hospital Annual Meeting

Backus Hospital and Windham Hospital experienced a year of growth, increased access to specialty services in the community and enhanced care coordination in 2018, according to Hartford HealthCare East Region President Donna Handley at the combined Annual Meeting of the two hospitals on Nov. 7. The meeting, the theme of...

Seasonal soup.

Seasonal, Good-For-You Recipe: Ginger Lentil Butternut Squash Soup

By Jeanne Tennis Here’s a delicious and healthy butternut squash soup recipe that’s perfect for the fall-winter season: Ginger Lentil Butternut Squash Soup (Seasonal, plant-based and gluten-Free) Ingredients 1 medium onion, diced 1 – 2 celery stalks, diced 1 – 2 Tablespoons of olive oil or water to sauté 1...

Indoor Exercise Ideas to Keep You Active in the Colder Months

As the temperature drops and the daylight hours begin to fade away, there’s no excuse to stop your exercise activities just because you can’t be outdoors anymore.  Those looking to keep up with their exercise routines during the winter months have plenty of options to stay in shape even as...

Weight Loss Surgery: Can Success Be Predicted?

Weight loss surgery has become an effective tool in treating obesity, especially in people who have not benefitted from diet and exercise. Along with reduced weight – about 30% on average – there is improved health for many who undergo this surgery: lowered blood pressure, reduced sleep apnea, and even...