Today's Medicine

Guidelines Change to Save Lives

Blood pressure: The silent killer

Known as the “silent killer,” high blood pressure causes or contributes to 1,100 deaths every day in the United States. Unfortunately, many people don’t have symptoms from their high blood pressure until it’s too late—they show up with strokes, heart attacks, or organ failure. 

The stakes are high for treatment of blood pressure, and doctors, pharmacists and researchers have spent decades exploring the right blood pressure goal to prevent these serious complications.

The newest guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology established new treatment goals and definitions for high blood pressure. As a primary care physician, I have had many patients wondering what this means to them, and the answer is, quite a lot!

How do I know if I have high blood pressure?

More often than not, the only way to know if you have high blood pressure, or hypertension, is to check! 

Symptoms of high blood pressure may include: 

  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Chest pain 

But some people with high blood pressure have no symptoms at all. That’s why it’s important to check.

There are blood pressure machines in most local grocery stores and pharmacies, and you can call your primary care doctor’s office to check your blood pressure. If you are checking your blood pressure at home, it’s always a good idea to write down these numbers and share them with your doctor. 

What are the new recommendations?

Our newest guidelines changed what we consider “normal” blood pressure. This is important for everyone—whether you have hypertension or not—because the guidelines made our goals much more strict! We now have the following recommendations:

Why did the blood pressure definitions change?

After reviewing hundreds of studies, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology found that for every 20 mmHg increase in the systolic blood pressure and for every 10 mmHg increase in the diastolic blood pressure, the risk of having a stroke, heart disease or vascular disease doubled. This is especially true if you are an adult over the age of 30. 

High blood pressure is one of the most modifiable risk factors for heart disease, and the new guidelines recognize that aggressive treatment of high blood pressure can lead to a significant decrease in heart and vascular disease and have our patients living longer and healthier.

What is my new blood pressure goal?

If your blood pressure goal changed with these guidelines, your health care provider will consider your whole picture of health. But for those treated with medications to lower blood pressure, you can expect to have a new goal of < 130/80.

Remember, guidelines are just that — guidelines. Your provider will work with you and use clinical judgement to decide the best blood pressure range for you.

What can I do to lower my blood pressure and risk of heart disease?

Lifestyle changes can be very important in managing high blood pressure. Losing extra weight, increasing your physical activity, and decreasing alcohol intake can each lower your blood pressure by 2-5 mm Hg. Following a low-salt, low-fat diet and increasing fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure by up to 11 mmHg!

It’s important to recognize that blood pressure is one part of the bigger picture for heart health — stopping smoking, controlling diabetes, losing weight, and managing stress are all key to staying healthy.

What do I do if I have questions about my blood pressure?

Just as the guidelines have tightened blood pressure goals, they also recommend rechecking blood pressures once monthly until controlled, which means you might be working more closely with your doctor. As patient-centered medical homes, Methodist Physician Clinics have numerous resources available to help you conquer your high blood pressure, including specialized health coaches and dieticians. 

If you think your blood pressure might be too high or want to hear what these newest recommendations mean to you, make an appointment to see your Methodist Physicians Clinic primary care provider. They are part of your front line of defense to protect against heart disease and stroke. 

About the Author

A child of a military family, internal medicine physician Dr. Shana Peper was raised to be selfless and do whatever she could to help others.

She treats a wide range of patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic Indian Hills.

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