Almost half of adults in the United States could now be classified as having high blood pressure, after new guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have redefined the condition.
Blood pressure is the force by which the blood pushes against the artery walls. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when this force becomes too high.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, and there are two numbers used to assess blood pressure: systolic and diastolic.
Systolic blood pressure (the top number) is the blood pressure when the heart beats, while diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) is the blood pressure between heartbeats, when the heart is at rest.
Previous guidelines — established in 2003 — defined hypertension as a blood pressure of 140/90 millimeters of mercury or higher.
Having a blood pressure of between 120/80 millimeters of mercury and 139/89 millimeters of mercury was categorized as prehypertension, whereby blood pressure levels are higher than normal, but are not high enough to be considered hypertensive.
Now, new guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Academy of Cardiology Task Force have revised the definition of hypertension, meaning that millions more adults will be considered at high risk for heart attack, heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.
The guidelines were developed by a panel of 21 scientists and health specialists — including Dr. Paul K. Whelton, a representative of the AHA — and they have been 3 years in the making.
Dr. Whelton and co-authors presented the new guidelines at the AHA’s Scientific Sessions 2017, held in Anaheim, CA.