Here’s What You Need to Know About the New Blood Pressure Guidelines

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Measuring blood pressure
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Bad news for those of us who thought we were skating by in life (and at our doctor’s appointments) with blood pressure in the 130/80 range: That’s now considered a bit too high.

According to new guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, the new number at which doctors should begin treating high blood pressure is 130/80 — a jump down from the previously accepted 140/90.

These new guidelines, which were last updated comprehensively in 2003, seek to allow doctors and patients an earlier start time in combating the symptoms and complications of high blood pressure before it becomes a more significant problem.

Under these new guidelines, nearly half (46%) of the adult U.S. population now has what is considered to be high blood pressure. For the portion of the population under 45 years of age, the number of men considered to have high blood pressure will triple. For women in the same range, the numbers will double.

The greatest impact will be seen among young people, but that’s exactly the point: Before this change in guidelines, high blood pressure was only addressed after it reached more dangerous levels. Now, heightened blood pressure will be diagnosed, treated with lifestyle changes (and sometimes medication) and brought back to a healthy level before it gets to a more dangerous point.

New Blood Pressure Guidelines

Under these new guidelines, blood pressure numbers are broken up like this:

  • Normal: Less than 120/80
  • Elevated: Systolic between 120 and 129 and diastolic less than 80
  • Stage 1: Systolic between 130 and 139 or diastolic between 80-89
  • Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90
  • Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120

(If you’re confused about what in the world these numbers actually mean, the first number is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats, and the second number is the pressure in your arteries between beats.)

These new guidelines get rid of the category of “prehypertension,” instead placing patients either at “elevated” or “stage 1.” This means that if your blood pressure levels were previously considered to be “prehypertension,” it’s probably time to check in with your doctor to see what kinds of changes you should be making.

Generally, medication for high blood pressure will be prescribed only for those in stage 2 or those in stage 1 who have previously had a cardiovascular event or other pertinent health issue.

That said, the decision about what type of action to take will be between you and your doctor.

Lifestyle Changes Can Help Lower Blood Pressure

These recommendations from Mayo Clinic can help you lower your blood pressure before it becomes a dangerous problem:

  • Many stores, including pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, warehouse stores like Sam’s Club and Costco and grocery stores with pharmacies have free blood pressure check stations that anyone is welcome to use. You can also schedule a quick blood pressure checkup at any walk-in clinic or with your doctor. Keep an eye on your numbers and talk to a medical professional if you have any concerns.
  • Regular physical activity can help lower your blood pressure. Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be anything fancy — a brisk walk, a light jog or a good swim or bike ride will do the trick. If you need more ideas for working out without overpaying for that gym membership, check out these cheap or free ways to exercise. Either way, it’s recommended that you exercise for at least 30 minutes each day.
  • Eating right can help lower your blood pressure significantly. To keep blood pressure within a healthy range, you should up your intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and cut back your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. Your doctor may recommend following the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
  • As weight increases, so does blood pressure. Watching your weight — and your waistline — is a great way to keep your blood pressure in check. According to Mayo Clinic, men are at risk of high blood pressure if their waistline measures above 40 inches, while women are at risk if their waistline measures above 35 inches.
  • Reducing your sodium intake is an easy way to lower your blood pressure by a few points. Try adding less salt while cooking, reading labels for sodium content and eating fewer processed foods.
  • Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol can not only raise your blood pressure, but can actually render some blood pressure medications ineffective.
  • Smoking raises your blood pressure significantly each time you pick up a cigarette. If you need help quitting smoking, you can find cheap and free resources here that will help you quit and stay quit.
  • Stress is a huge contributor to high blood pressure. If you’re stressed about money (and who among us isn’t?!) here are some easy ways to take your brain off your finances. If you’re just stressed in general (again, show of hands?), there are ways to combat that, too.

Along with being dangerous in and of itself, high blood pressure can complicate or lead to many other serious health issues, including heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.

Heightened blood pressure levels may not initially seem concerning, but you should address the problem before it becomes a major health issue — and a major expense. Early and preventative care is often the best money-saving trick we can employ when it comes to our health.

Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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