Welcome to the new normal of blood pressure

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Carol Carney, financial counselor and care coordinator at Pullman Regional Hospital, gets her blood pressure checked by cardiologist David Jones. Because of new, stricter blood pressure guidelines, high blood pressure is now 130/80, compared to the previous high of 140/90.

PULLMAN - Many Americans may have just found their 2018 New Year's resolution, thanks to new, stricter blood pressure guidelines recently issued by the nation's leading heart organizations.

Under the revised guidelines, 130/80 is the new ceiling, compared to 140/90, which was the previous high measurement.

The new standard means tens of millions who didn't have high blood pressure now do.

The number of people with high blood pressure surged from 32 percent to 46 percent under the new guidelines, according to the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, which conducted the studies that influenced the change.

"It's a mechanism to raise awareness to cardiovascular disease; if you don't take it seriously, you can't treat it," said Dawn DeWitt, internal medicine physician and associate dean of clinical education at Washington State University's Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. "If you aim for one goal, you will be above that goal; if we aim for 120 we will probably be at 130."

High blood pressure, as well as high cholesterol and smoking, are three major risk factors for heart disease. Strokes, heart attacks and kidney damage are the risks involved.

Exercise, dieting and avoiding sodium are the best options for lowering the chance of high blood pressure, David Jones, a cardiologist at Pullman Regional Hospital, said. Certain medications can also help keep blood pressure in check, Jones said.

Every two pounds of weight burned reduces blood pressure by one point, he said, noting cardiovascular disease is the number-one killer in the United States.

"We're doing better," Jones said. "There have been years cancer beat it out, but most years it's heart disease."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease. That's about 610,000 deaths per year.

"We live in a society where we're going to have to start figuring out how to deal with this," DeWitt said. "Thinking of yourself as sick or thinking of yourself in danger, your worry level goes up, we want people to really start seriously thinking about it."

Jones recommends paying closer attention to blood pressure as you near age 30.

"They lowered the categories and encouraged an awareness, and they are requiring patients and providers to be more mindful of elevated blood pressure," he said, adding he doesn't believe the guidelines were strengthened to force patients onto medications.

Blood pressure below 100 can also be detrimental to health.

"A lot of people have low blood pressure and are totally fine," Jones said. "It's especially a problem if it drops precipitously when someone stands up; it can cause people to pass out. There's not a lot of data on that."

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Babcock may be contacted at jbabcock@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2275.

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