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New blood pressure guidelines for heart health

Mind, Spirit, Body

This month, we’re wearing our heart on our sleeve as we spread the news of our cardiovascular system. Heart Health Month is the perfect time to take a step back and reconsider your heart health—specifically, your blood pressure. For the first time in 15 years, The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released a new set of guidelines to help further understand our blood pressure health.

Dr. David Ploss, a cardiologist at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley, helps break it down for us.

Hypertension becomes two blood pressure categories

The old blood pressure guidelines grouped “prehypertension” into one category ranging between 120/80 and 139/89, however the new guidelines divide these numbers into stages.

  • Normal range: Below 120/80
  • Elevated blood pressure: Between 120 to 130
  • Stage 1 hypertension: Between 130/80 to 139/89
  • Stage 2 hypertension: Above 140/90

“These new guidelines make it seem as though, suddenly, many people are going to need to be treated for hypertension, and that’s not the case,” says Dr. Ploss. “It’s really just changing the way we think about the terms.” The main difference is that those who qualify within stage 1 hypertension can now be eligible for therapies.  

“But there’s a catch,” says Dr. Ploss. “Those within that category shouldn’t be treated with drug therapies unless they have a 10-year cardiovascular risk exceeding 10 percent, based on certain criteria.” Therefore, the true number of individuals who may require treatment under the new guidelines is low.

Blood pressure readings aren’t as accurate as you think

You know the routine. You finally arrive at the doctor’s office after another stressful day. Sit down, catch your breath and the medical assistant straps the blood pressure monitor to your arm. According to Dr. Ploss, this is not going to reflect an accurate reading.

“Blood pressure readings should be taken many different times, especially when the patient has had a chance to sit down and relax,” he says. The new blood pressure guidelines encourage at-home readings. Individuals can purchase their own blood pressure cuffs and take readings at different points throughout the day in order to catch readings at different cycles in the body. 

Dr. Ploss suggests comparing at-homes readings with day-of readings in the office, offering more effective insight into your actual blood pressure signs. “These comprehensive readings will help guide proper treatment,” says Dr. Ploss. “The goal is to get highly accurate, representative blood pressure readings.”

You can improve your heart health

Although the new blood pressure guidelines may bring new awareness to light, Dr. Ploss wants people to remember: They’re just guidelines, not dogma. “We’ll always have to look at each individual patient,” he says. “We’ll always have to see what the potential benefits and risks will be for that person specifically.”

Adopting a healthy lifestyle and diet changes can improve your heart health—which can be particularly helpful for those with elevated blood pressure. Try the DASH diet per Dr. Ploss’s recommendation and be sure to get regular exercise. “These types of changes can easily make you lose 10 blood pressure points and—most importantly—potentially cut your risk of having a heart attack by 50 perecent,” he says.

Want to learn more about heart health? Check with your healthcare provider and read more about blood pressure readings on the American Heart Association website.