New Guidelines Redefine High Blood Pressure

February 20, 2018 10:11 am Published by

MOBILE — A recent decision by leading heart health groups to lower the cutoff for high blood pressure will cause 45 percent of U.S. adults – many under the age of 45 – to be categorized as hypertensive.

While the guidelines will increase the number of people diagnosed with hypertension, the emphasis for most of these people is awareness and lifestyle measures rather than medication, said Dr. Julia Ellison, a family medicine physician at Ascension Medical Group Providence in Fairhope.

“The new guidelines are a wake-up call for people to pay more attention to their heart health,” she said.

“By addressing the condition sooner, we hope that people will take the opportunity to make lifestyle changes that can reduce their risk for long-term health complications.”

The new guidelines established by the American Heart Association (AHA), the American College of Cardiology and nine other groups redefines high blood pressure as a reading of 130 over 80, down from 140 over 90. It also lowers the threshold for what is considered normal blood pressure to less than 120 over 80, and creates new categories to reflect various blood pressure readings.

For many people who fall under the new hypertensive category, lifestyle changes should be their first-line therapy. Research has shown that lifestyle changes have a cumulative effect in lowering blood pressure.

“Each lifestyle change a person makes has the potential to decrease their systolic pressure by 4 units and 2-4 units in diastolic pressure,” Dr. Ellison said. “A diet low in sodium, saturated fat and total fat, and rich in fruits vegetables and grains can decrease systolic pressure by 11 units. Both the DASH diet and Mediterranean Diet have been shown to be particularly effective.”

According to the AHA, high blood pressure is the leading cause of death worldwide and the second-leading cause of preventable death in the United States, after cigarette smoking.

“All the tissues and organs in your body need blood to function,” she said. “High blood pressure makes your body work harder and can lead to cardiovascular disease, strokes and severe kidney disease.”

While the new guidelines may cause concern, Dr. Ellison recommends these tips to protect yourself:

  • Make a choice for better health. There’s no magic pill for getting healthy. If you are diagnosed with hypertension, try to lose weight, improve your diet and get more exercise.
  • One high reading doesn’t equal a diagnosis. There are many external factors – such as time of day, temperature and climate – that can make blood pressure vary. Hypertension is defined as having elevated blood pressure during three separate readings.
  • Inherited risk of hypertension. You inherit many qualities from your parents, but developing hypertension doesn’t have to be one of them. While having a family history for hypertension may put you at greater risk for developing the condition, there are factors in your life you can improve upon.
  • Know your blood pressure numbers. Until age 40, it’s recommended to have at least one blood pressure check every five years. After 40, it should be done yearly.
  • Stay in the know, but beware of blood pressure kiosks. The desk-like kiosk at your local grocery store or pharmacy makes it easy to check your blood pressure, but according to the Food and Drug Administration, most have fixed-cuff sizes that can give inaccurate readings. If you need to monitor your blood pressure, talk to your doctor about the best method for keeping track of it.

For more information about Providence Hospital cardiology services, visit To contact Dr. Ellison, visit or call 251-660-3470.