Health & Wellness

New Blood Pressure Guidelines – Should Seniors be Worried?

blood pressure new guidelinesWhat is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) is called “the silent killer” because it often has no obvious symptoms to signal to you that something is wrong. It occurs when your blood pressure, the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels, is consistently too high. Since most people with high blood pressure are unaware that they have it, doctors want you to know your numbers.

Why is high blood pressure bad?

HBP increases the workload of the heart and blood vessels. It forces them to work harder and less efficiently. Over time, it can lead to serious problems such as heart attack, stroke, or dangerous arrhythmias.

How do I know if I have HBP?

The way to determine your blood pressure is to take a reading. Blood pressure readings are separated into categories, ranging from healthy to unhealthy. Healthy readings will fall into a normal range of numbers, whereas unhealthy high blood pressure readings are categorized into various stages of hypertension. A blood pressure reading appears as two numbers. An extremely dangerous and life-threatening hypertensive crisis can occur if blood pressure reaches 180/120 or greater. Low blood pressure, or hypotension, may signal an underlying problem, especially if less than 90/60.

What has recently changed?

In the past, high blood pressure was indicated as a reading of 140/90 or above. Now, new guidelines to indicate high blood pressure have been established by the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and many other leading experts in the field. A previously normal reading of 130/80 is now considered high blood pressure. According to CNN, “Almost half of all Americans –46%– are now considered to be in the high blood pressure category based on new guidelines released…” Blood pressure is considered optimal when it is 120/80 or less.

How is blood pressure measured?

Blood pressure is measured with an instrument called a sphygmomanometer. A cuff gets placed around your arm and is inflated using a pump. A small valve slowly deflates the cuff and the doctor/nurse measures blood pressure using a stethoscope over your arm. The doctor/nurse will take two readings.

What readings are taken?

The upper number is called the systolic blood pressure. The lower number is called the diastolic blood pressure. Each reading helps to tell us if the heart is working properly. The systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The diastolic reading shows the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats.

How often should I get my blood pressure checked?

Your blood pressure should be taken at regular checkups with your primary care doctor. If you experience high blood pressure, or are in a questionable category, your doctor will want to see you more often to monitor your condition and recheck your blood pressure. Your doctor or nurse should take your blood pressure twice, once in each arm. A significant difference could be a sign of heart and blood vessel disease.

What if the change now puts me in the high blood pressure category?

Based on the new guidelines, many of us have been suddenly thrust into an out of normal range category. It is a signal to make lifestyle adjustments to avoid problems. Preventing high blood pressure lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other medical conditions; even lowering risk of death from those conditions. While the condition of high blood pressure cannot be cured, it can be managed by making proper lifestyle changes and/or by taking medications. Diabetics need to manage high blood pressure because the combination can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, if left untreated.

Is aging a factor?

As we grow older, we face a higher probability of having healthcare complications. This includes increased risk of cardiovascular problems and increased chances of having high blood pressure. With aging, our heart muscles and cell walls become weaker, and our blood vessels and organs tend to decrease in performance. Thus, it’s especially important for seniors to schedule regular visits with their doctors.

What are some other risk factors for HBP?

There are other risk factors for HBP, such as family history, gender, and race. If your parents have high blood pressure, you may be more susceptible. Men under age 45 are more likely to get high blood pressure than women under 45. In the United States, statistics show that African-Americans tend to have higher blood pressure more often than other races. Pre-existing medical conditions, such as sleep apnea, may also increase the risk of developing problems associated with high blood pressure.

What can we do to prevent high blood pressure?

According to the American Heart Association, “A healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease.” If you are in one or more of these higher risk groups, don’t fret. The advice hasn’t changed; exercise, eat right, don’t drink or smoke, limit salt intake, control your blood sugar, watch your weight, and see your doctor for regular checkups. Follow your physician’s advice about living a healthier lifestyle and taking medications if needed.

Is there anything else I can do?

Have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. Or, monitor your blood pressure at home. Once you have the equipment, it’s easy. Take your blood pressure at the same time each day when you are relaxed. Make sure your bladder is empty, as a full one can increase your systolic result. Or, head to a local pharmacy equipped to check your blood pressure for free.

Helpful websites: Visit www.heart.org for valuable health information from the American Heart Association, and look for ways to live healthier. Visit www.webmd.com for up-to-date medical information and for additional tips to check your own blood pressure.

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