Most doctors don't become concerned about a patient's blood pressure until it reaches 140 over 90, but a new report by the National Heart Lung Blood Institute is about to change the rules.
It says that levels once considered normal or borderline are now up there in that red flag range, meaning the risk of heart disease actually starts when a patient's pressure is much lower, at 115 over 75.
"For those in the pre-hypertension stage, the 120 - 139 systolic blood pressure, or 80 - 89 diastolic pressure, they are at increased risk for cardiovascular death and stroke death," says Dr. Edward J. Roccella.
Pre-hypertension is the new term for people with borderline high blood pressure, and that's the focus of new government guidelines designed to help catch people before they develop full-blown hypertension.
The NIH report is urging doctors to encourage their patients to adopt healthy changes like exercise and a low fat diet, along with cutting those bad habits like smoking. That alone can have a big impact on blood pressure levels and prevent the cascade of health problems that are linked to hypertension.
It's estimated that nearly 45 million Americans are in the pre-hypertensive range. The guidelines also urge doctors to be far more aggressive in treating hypertension, noting that almost a third of people with high blood pressure don't even know it. Plus, two-thirds of diagnosed patients don't have the disease under control.
An estimated 50 million Americans have high blood pressure, often called the silent killer because it may not cause symptoms until the patient has suffered damage. It raises the risk of heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, kidney damage, blindness, and dementia.
The new guidelines also say most people who already have high blood pressure will need at least two medications to control their disease. High blood pressure measures 140 over 90 or more. That level hasn't changed.
Blood pressure is measured as two values and the first, or top number in the reading is the most important for anyone over age 50, and age studies show the chance of developing hypertension increases - even in healthy people.