As such, health care professionals should be identifying these patients and helping to initiate interventions to bring down blood pressure.
"They would have to exercise more, have a better diet - a diet that is low in sodium, restrict alcohol and lower stress", Dr. Ravi Dave, Professor of Medicine at UCLA Health.
The new definition will increase the rate of Americans with high blood pressure from about 33 percent to nearly 50 percent, according to Keith Ferdinand, a cardiovascular doctor and guidelines reviewer for the report in which the findings were published.
The guidelines point out that patients with Stage 1 high blood pressure (130-139/80-89 mm Hg) who also have other issues that increase their risk for heart attack and stroke, such as diabetes, should start medication while also working on lifestyle changes.
Americans with blood pressure of 130/80 or higher should be treated, down from the previous trigger of 140/90, according to new guidelines announced on Monday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Anaheim, California.
The new guidelines also emphasize the importance of accurate blood pressure measurements, using an average of different readings at different times. "We expect this guideline will cause our society and our physician community to really pay attention much more to lifestyle recommendations".
Despite an increase in the amount of Americans with high blood pressure, the AHA hopes their new guidelines mean there will be only a small increase in the amount of patients requiring medication. 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.
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The new AHA guidelines for diagnosing hypertension are listed below.
"It's normal to have a systolic blood pressure of 120 and a diastolic below 80, and that's what we should all be aiming to have", Whelton said.
In 2010, high blood pressure was the leading cause of death worldwide and the second-leading cause of preventable death in the United States, after cigarette smoking.
The guidelines "have the potential of improving the health of millions", and are supported by solid science, said David Goff, director of cardiovascular sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Blood pressure is affected by a wide variety of factors including genetics, age, diet, exercise, stress and other diseases such as diabetes. The prevalence of high blood pressure is expected to triple among men under age 45, and double among women under 45 according to the report.
Potentially deadly high blood pressure can be brought under control with a wide array of medications, many sold as relatively affordable generics.
"People with white-coat hypertension do not seem to have the same elevation in risk as someone with true sustained high blood pressure", Whelton said. "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". "There is a reason it's known as the silent killer".
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