Anyone with blood pressure higher than 130/80 will now be considered to have hypertension, or high blood pressure, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology said in releasing their new joint guidelines.
The new guidelines reflect years of research, which have shown that people within the new range of blood pressure defined as hypertension have doubled their risk of cardiovascular problems in the future, such as heart attacks or strokes.
Dr. Larry Gordon from Aspirus said the association most likely made the changes to be proactive and lower the risk of people being diagnosed with more serious illnesses later on.
The change comes after several years of evolving research on blood pressure and its health consequences.
The change is outlined in the American Heart Association 2017 Hypertension Practice Guidelines, an extensive report by experts without relevant ties to the pharmaceutical industry. The guidelines were last revised in 2003.
The new definition will increase the rate of Americans with high blood pressure from about 33 percent to nearly 50 percent, according to Keith Ferdinand, a cardiovascular doctor and guidelines reviewer for the report in which the findings were published.
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But the report's authors predicted that relatively few of those who fall into the new hypertensive category will need medication. The change means that 46 percent of USA adults, many of them under the age of 45, now will be considered hypertensive.
The guidelines "have the potential of improving the health of millions", and are supported by solid science, said David Goff, director of cardiovascular sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Stage I hypertension was previously classified as 140/90. "This now allows 14 percent of our population to understand that's a call to action". It will also disproportionately affect younger people by tripling the number of men under 45 and doubling the number of women under 45 with the diagnosis.
"The drugs approved to treat high blood pressure are all generic". Only those with heart disease or at high risk for developing it during the next decade will be prescribed drugs, the guidelines state.
"It's actually not the most robust measurement", he said. "We didn't have that in previous guidelines".
"Normal hasn't changed. We are still saying that it is great and it is normal to have a systolic blood pressure reading below 120 and a diastolic reading under 80", Whelton said.
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Currently, 40 percent of West Virginians have hypertension.
Under the new threshold for initiating treatment, patients assessed to be at higher risk of cardiovascular problems will also be started on medication, he said. "This amounts to 4.2 million people, based on the USA population". It measures the amount of pressure going through your heart when it's pumping. "One of the most important lifestyle modifications would be reduction of weight, which as you know obesity is an epidemic in this country, even losing 10 pounds can make a difference, 10-percent is the equivalent of blood pressure pills".
"It's very clear that lower is better", said Dr. Paul Whelton of Tulane University, who chaired the committee that wrote the guidelines.
Get the latest health and science news, plus: burning questions and expert tips. "They are based on strong evidence", Whelton said.
Systolic pressure - or the force on arteries during a heartbeat - should not exceed 120.
Stage 1: Systolic between 130 and139.
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Blood pressure of 120/80 or above is considered elevated; 130/80 to 139/89 is now considered Stage 1 hypertension and anything 140/90 or above will be considered stage 2 hypertension.