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Roughly half of Americans will have high blood pressure under new American Heart Association guidelines released this week.

Even the target 120/80 benchmark will be considered “elevated” under the new definitions, which will add millions to risk groups, the AHA announced Monday.

The goal is to head off cardiovascular disease and unforeseen events at a population level, the organization added in a statement this week.

“Yes we will label more people hypertensive and give more medication, but we will save lives and money by preventing more strokes, cardiovascular events and kidney failure,” said Kenneth Jamerson, a internist at the University of Michigan Health System.

“We need to send the message that yes, you are at increased risk and these are the things you should be doing,” added Paul Whelton, chair of global public health at Tulane University.

Any blood pressure reading with systolic pressure over 130, or diastolic 80 or over, would be considered “high,” the new guidelines say. Any systolic reading between 120 and 129 would be “elevated.”

The guidelines, which are the first reevaluation of the quantitative benchmarks in 14 years, are published in the AHA journal Hypertension. They are predicted to reclassify big segments of the population into the “high” and “elevated” blood pressure categories.

For instance, the high-blood-pressure rates will now triple for men between 20 and 44, from 11 percent to 30 percent. The women in that group will double, from 10 percent to 19 percent.

A whopping three-quarters of the men between 55 and 74 will probably be diagnosed with high blood pressure, they added. That statistic will be driven by an increase of 13 percent more of the men between 65 and 74. Of that same age group among women, there will be a 12 percent increase, they added.

Black and Hispanic men will see a 17 percent increase, across the board. Asian men, at 16 percent, will also see a sizable increase.

Health experts seemed to welcome the new guidelines. David O. Barbe, president of the American Medical Association, said the cutoffs at 130 for systolic and 80 diastolic means lifestyle changes – and not necessarily medication. That would include exercise, better diet with less salt, reduced alcohol consumption, and losing weight.

“We encourage people to take action today to get their blood pressure under control by adopting a treatment plan that can help them prevent the lasting, negative health impacts of uncontrolled high blood pressure, including heart attack and stroke,” the AMA president said.

The American Heart Association announced in the summer that it was absorbing the American Society of Hypertension and its members into the AHA ranks.

“The fight against hypertension now has a louder megaphone to speak to a larger audience,” said Joey Granger, the chair of the AHA Council on Hypertension, as part of the July announcement.

Cardiovascular diseases and events are a major driver of death in America. About 787,000 people in the U.S. died from strokes, heart attacks and other heart-related events in 2011 – a figure that reflects about a third of the deaths in America from that year, according to the AHA.

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