Above: courtesy of Pixabay

Medical experts recently changed the blood pressure reading considered to show high blood pressure, or hypertension.

The change, announced in November by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, calls for blood pressure readings to be targeted at or below 120/80 rather than 140/90, which was the previous target cap.

The take-away from both organizations: Monitor elevated blood pressure now and avoid waiting to treat high blood pressure later.

Elevated blood pressure, previously called pre-hypertension, calls for treatment that includes key lifestyle changes. For some patients, medication will be part of their new program.

Basil Margolis MD; photo courtesy of Dr. Basil Margolis

“Hypertension is the number one cardiovascular [heart and blood vessel] risk factor for death and disability from heart attack and stroke,” said Dr. Basil Margolis, Director, Emory Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. He also works as an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine.

Margolis added, “… [this is] information that all physicians require to optimize the management of high blood pressure in their patients. Needless to say, this is particularly relevant for the more senior members of our society today. The new 2017 hypertension guidelines will help prevent the devastating effects of this condition.”

There’s no question that treating elevated blood pressure is an important step in helping to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, many heart experts say.

But they believe more can be done when it comes to prevention.

“Those people [at 130/80 to 139/89] are already at double the risk of a heart attack,” said Dr. Paul Whelton, the lead author of the new guidelines, during an American Heart Association interview following November’s announcement.

“We’re taking what was previously pre-hypertension, and taking the upper end of that and [we’ve] said that is now Class [or Stage] 1 Hypertension,” he explained.

This new definition will result in nearly half of the U.S. adult population—46 percent—being classified as having high blood pressure, according to the American College of Cardiology.

To quote the American Heart Association, “The new guidelines … [help to] lower the definition of high blood pressure to account for complications that can occur at lower numbers and allow for earlier intervention.”


The Numbers…

February is National Heart Month, and a good opportunity to learn as much as you can about your heart. It’s even more important to know what you can do to lower the risk of heart disease—and then do it.

Heart disease is the number one killer of American men and women in the United States. Every year, about 790,000 Americans have a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these cases, 580,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 happen to people who’ve already had a first heart attack.

More than 610,000 people die each year from heart-related diseases and more than half of those deaths are males, according to CDC.

In Georgia, 136,000 years of potential life is lost because of cardiovascular disease, which includes all diseases of the heart and blood vessels. In 2013 alone, the related cost in Georgia was $6.1 billion, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

…And What to Do About Them

High blood pressure has a habit of sneaking up on people. While few symptoms are felt, the condition can be destructive to blood vessels. Such damage may lead to serious health problems over time. In fact, high blood pressure has been known as “the silent killer” for many years.

There are several things you can do to keep your numbers from creeping up and to help lower the risk from damage from elevated or high blood pressure.

For example, using prescribed medications correctly and making positive lifestyle changes can help, say American Heart Association experts. They also suggest that you maintain a healthy weight and get more active, eat healthier foods, reduce sodium intake and limit alcohol.

This advice also helps to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and more.

Courtesy of Pexels

Routine blood pressure checks are also important for prevention. If you’re a busy person, it may not always be easy to make an appointment with a healthcare professional. Here are a few places you can have your blood pressure checked to make sure your numbers stay at or under 120/80.

  • Sandy Springs residents can visit any of the four fire stations in the city to have their blood pressure checked at no charge by an EMT and/or paramedic. No appointment is necessary. Find details and a list of fire stations at sandyspringsga.gov.
  • DeKalb County, Fulton County and Gwinnett County residents can also visit their local fire stations to have their blood pressure checked. Appointments are not required and there is no fee. A list of stations is available at dekalbcountyga.gov, fultoncountyga.gov and gwinnettcounty.com.
  • Check with your local pharmacist. Some have blood pressure stations for your convenience; in other cases, a pharmacist can help you. Certain pharmacies offer this as a free service.

“Walk with a Doc” is a nonprofit organization with a mission to encourage healthy physical activity in people of all ages. Healthy snacks, coffee and blood pressure checks are also a standard part of Dunwoody’s “Walk with a Doc” program. Head to Brook Run Park, 4770 N. Peachtree Road, Dunwoody 30338 on the second Saturday of every month. The walk goes from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact Rachel Waldon at rachel.waldron@dunwoodyga.gov for details.

Judi Kanne

Judi Kanne is a public health communications consultant and contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.