New guidelines mean almost half of adults suffer from high blood pressure

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"Hopefully, the new guidelines will give clinicians more confidence that it is appropriate to treat high-risk patients who may not meet the old definitions of high blood pressure", Ferdinand said.

The new guidelines eliminate the category of prehypertension, which was used for blood pressures between 120-139/80-89 mm Hg.

The guidelines recommend lifestyle changes, eating a healthy, low-sodium diet, rich in potassium - bananas, potatoes, avocados, leafy green vegetables - weight loss, exercise, and cutting out alcohol and tobacco. The number of Americans with hypertension who are recommended for medical treatment would increase by only 4.2 million adults, or 5 percent more than were previously recommended.

This means almost half the USA adult population is living with hypertension and at an increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

For the first time in more than a decade the American Heart Association is changing the guidelines for blood pressure. "Normal hasn't changed. We are still saying that it is great and it is normal to have a systolic blood pressure reading below 120 and a diastolic reading under 80", Whelton said. If blood pressure reaches 180/120 or higher - and either number in the blood pressure reading counts - people will be classified as in hypertensive crisis with need for immediate treatment or hospitalization.

However, with research showing complications occurring in readings of 130/80, the American Heart Association officially redefined the criteria for high blood pressure - a reading of 120/80.

"Lifestyle modification is the cornerstone for treatment of hypertension", said Dr. Robert Carey of the University of Virginia, who helped write the guidelines.

Cronenweth says he checks his blood pressure every day and more Americans will be getting instructions on how to do that. This is called diastolic pressure. Hypertension, where the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls is elevated, is considered the second-largest cause of preventable heart disease after smoking. Blood pressure is affected by a wide variety of factors including genetics, age, diet, exercise, stress and other diseases such as diabetes.

High blood pressure is expected to triple among men under age 45 and double among women under 45, according to the American Heart Association.

Even though 14 percent more people will be diagnosed with high blood pressure, only a small portion will take home prescriptions.

In developing the guidelines, authors also analyzed more than 900 research studies, excluding those that did not meet strict research requirements. "It doesn't mean you need medication, but it's a yellow light that you need to be lowering your blood pressure, mainly with non-drug approaches".

Thomas Frieden, the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who now runs a global health initiative that focuses on heart disease and stroke, said that the "big news about this guideline is it should end forever any debate about whether people should be treated with medicines once they hit 140/90". It's known as a "silent killer" because often there are no symptoms.