Heart disease and stroke are the most common things that kill us, and high blood pressure warns us when we're at even greater risk. Doctors now say more of us may be at risk than ever before.
“Almost half of the adult population in the United States will be now classified as having hypertension,” said Dr. Andre Paixao, a cardiologist at Arkansas Heart Hospital. “We've changed how we classify blood pressure and we've changed the goal for people who have established hypertension or high blood pressure.”
Those changes arrived courtesy of the American Heart Association. Before Monday, most adults wanted to hear a blood pressure reading of “120 over 80” at a physical or check-up. Treatment started if that first number hit 140 or above. Now the new guidelines lower that threshold to 130.
“What has really changed is what we used to call ‘pre-hypertension,’" said Dr. Paixao. “The 130-139 range. So that's now Stage-1 hypertension.”
That creates a big new group of people who now need to pay attention to their heart health, but don't give yourself high blood pressure worrying about it just yet.
“For most people you're just going to recommend diet, exercise, moderate alcohol consumption, smoking cessation and basic healthy lifestyle interventions,” said Dr. Paixao, who added that he’s now on the border of where hypertension starts. He lives by and recommends the Mediterranean Diet, which is calls for lots of fruits, olive oil, nuts, fish, poultry and legumes. It cuts out processed foods and cuts back on red meat, high-fat dairy and simple carbs.
Another recommendation, checking blood pressure more frequently, including at home.
“It's a great way to get a peek inside and a great way to record it and let your doctor know you're serious about your health,” said Philip Way, a pharmacist at Remedy Drug in Little Rock. He has those home kits ready to sell, and if you are among the thousands heading for hypertension medication, he said you should not worry about the cost.
“Blood pressure medicine is extremely affordable and any pharmacy or doctor should be able to work with a patient and find a regimen that's very affordable for them,” Way said.