Just released November 13, 2017, new guidelines for Hypertension, the term for High Blood Pressure, have implications for prevention of heart and vascular disease and stroke. The definition of “high” or elevated blood pressure is now lower, with emphasis on lifestyle changes to prevent progression to hypertension.
The guidelines are written by a group of scientists, researchers, and clinical experts from multiple societies – who review over 900 manuscripts and published research results to include what we know about blood pressure and the effects of uncontrolled blood pressure or hypertension. The guidelines emphasize lifestyle changes that anyone can make to help keep their blood pressure safe. Lifestyle changes and at times medications can help keep blood pressure in a healthy range and prevent heart disease and stroke.
Why so much focus on high blood pressure? Hypertension is also called ‘the silent killer’ because it may not cause symptoms until heart damage has already happened. Consequences of uncontrolled high blood pressure include stroke, heart failure, erectile dysfunction, vision loss, heart attack, kidney disease/failure. The consequences add up if hypertension combines with other medical problems like diabetes or with lifestyle such as sedentary behavior.
What is blood pressure? It is a measurement of the force of the blood moving through your arteries (arteries are part of the circulation). Blood pressure is made up of two numbers, systolic and diastolic. Arteries exposed to elevated or high blood pressure over time can have changes such as increased size (aneurysm), increased plaque (atherosclerosis), and decreased function (eye blood vessel changes).
What are the new numbers??
The new blood pressure categories define normal as less than 120/80 mmHg, elevated systolic between 120-129 mmHg and diastolic less than 80 mmHg, stage I hypertension as systolic between 130-39 mmHg or diastolic between 80-89 mmHg, stage II hypertension systolic at least 40 or diastolic at least 90 mmHg, and hypertensive crisis is systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120 with patients needing prompt changes in medication if there are no other indications of problems or immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage.
The new guidelines lower the level at which doctors will be paying attention to blood pressure. The category of pre-hypertension is eliminated.
How do I know my blood pressure??
How do you check a blood pressure? The new guidelines emphasized the importance of using proper technique to measure blood pressure. Patients can check blood pressure at home. The use of validated devices is recommended ~ a pharmacist can help with BP monitor selection. Be sure to sit with back support, feet on the floor, and arm at heart level (left chest), relax for 5 minutes before checking the blood pressure. Multiple readings are ok.
What affects blood pressure??
What is Lifestyle and how does it impact blood pressure? Lifestyle refers to how we live, choices we can make on a daily basis, that add up considerably to our overall heart health. Patients often ask how they can reduce or avoid taking medications – it is possible to use lifestyle ~ depending on the cause of the elevated blood pressure. Getting to goal weight, staying active, avoiding a high sodium diet (read labels, make your own food), liberal amounts of vegetables in the diet, not using tobacco products, managing stress, avoiding excess alcohol, are all great ways to use lifestyle to keep blood pressure < 120/80mmHg.
Over the counter medications can increase blood pressure. Nonnarcotic analgesics such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naprosyn can increase blood pressure and should be used with intent (not by habit). Pain can raise blood pressure so if the medicine helps reduce pain, that will help but don’t take these medicines ‘just because.’ Medicines such as decongestants, or stimulants for example sometimes found in diet pills, can increase blood pressure. Natural licorice can increase blood pressure levels. Prescription medications such as oral contraceptives, cyclosporin, erythropoietin, or meloxicam can increase blood pressure. Herbal compounds such as ephedra or ma huang can increase blood pressure. Awareness is important when working toward optimal blood pressure.
What does risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) have to do with blood pressure??
The new blood pressure guidelines focus on the patient’s risk for heart and vascular disease and take into consideration if the patient has already had heart attack or stroke or is at high risk of heart attack or stroke based on age, the presence of diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease or calculation of atherosclerotic risk (using the same risk calculator used when evaluating whether or not to treat high cholesterol).
Where can I get more information??
The Heart Health Docs have covered heart healthy diet and exercise extensively. Lifestyle habits play a powerful role in heart health and in blood pressure management. Simple habits like regular exercise, following the DASH diet, boosting potassium in your diet, and limiting alcohol are great for getting to goal blood pressure. Keeping a healthy weight will help get to goal blood pressure.
We recommend checking out the American College of Cardiology site, CardioSmart for great information about hypertension.
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