But in late 2017, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association released new guidelines for blood pressure that mean millions of Americans are now classified as having high blood pressure.
To understand what the new guidelines mean, it’s important to first understand what the two different numbers represent. The top (or first) number is the systolic pressure, and indicates the maximum pressure your heart exerts while beating. The bottom (or second) number is the diastolic pressure, and indicates the amount of pressure in your arteries between heart beats. Keeping both numbers in the normal and healthy range can help reduce your risk for a multitude of serious issues, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, aneurysms, eye damage, sexual dysfunction and more.
The new guidelines, which reflect years of data that indicate the importance of blood pressure on your overall health are as follows:
- Normal blood pressure: 120/80 or lower
- Elevated blood pressure: Systolic blood pressure between 120-129
- Stage 1 high blood pressure: A systolic number from 130-139 OR a diastolic number from 80-89
- Stage 2 high blood pressure: A systolic number of 140 or higher or a diastolic number of 90 or higher
It’s also important to remember that blood pressure guidelines are the same for all adults; high blood pressure is not a normal part of aging and should be treated appropriately at any age.
If your blood pressure is higher than the normal range according to the new guidelines, talk to your doctor. If your blood pressure is in the elevated range, you may be able to manage it with diet and lifestyle changes, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, reducing your consumption of bad fats and sodium, increasing your level of activity and losing weight if necessary. But if you have high blood pressure — which is diagnosed if your pressure measures in the high range on two separate readings — your doctor will likely recommend medication in addition to lifestyle changes to bring it under control.
The important thing is to be aware of the new guidelines, and take immediate steps to help ensure that your blood pressure doesn't damage your health.
This article first appeared in the May 2019 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.