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What New Blood Pressure Guidelines Mean for You

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recently announced new blood pressure guidelines with stricter definitions of what counts as high blood pressure.

For example, before the new guidelines, blood pressure between 120-139/80-89 mm Hg was defined as “prehypertension,” and stage 1 high blood pressure was 140/90 mm Hg or higher. With the new guidelines (see chart), stage 1 high blood pressure starts at 130/80 mm Hg.

Blood pressure category Systolic blood pressure Diastolic blood pressure
Normal <120 mm Hg and <80 mm Hg
Elevated 120-129 mm Hg and <80 mm Hg
High blood pressure stage 1 130-139 mm Hg or 80-89 mm Hg
High blood pressure stage 2 ≥140 mm Hg or ≥90 mm Hg

The new guidelines also replace the term “prehypertension” with “elevated” blood pressure. This helps identify patients who may be at higher risk for developing high blood pressure.

These new guidelines are not meant to alarm the high number of adults (five out of 10) that now fall within the range for elevated or high blood pressure. Instead, the goal is to help patients reduce their risk of developing high blood pressure and adopt healthy lifestyle habits.

Patients with stage 1 high blood pressure, and who are at low risk for developing heart disease, are encouraged to adopt healthy lifestyle changes as the first line of treatment. These include:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Eat a healthy diet such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, limit salt and eat potassium-rich foods
  • Get regular physical activity
  • Limit alcohol to one drink per day for women, two drinks per day for men

However, for patients with stage 1 high blood pressure and who are at higher risk of heart disease, lifestyle changes plus medicine are recommended. Your doctor can determine your risk level.

“The hope is that increased awareness might encourage people to make healthy choices,” said Cardiologist Abinet Ashine. “Meanwhile, as more people receive a diagnosis of high blood pressure, physicians will want to be mindful and deliberate about when to treat with medication.”

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Learn more about the risks of high blood pressure.