For years, it was a cornerstone of medical and nursing education that an “optimal” blood pressure was a systolic number of 120 and a diastolic number of 80. The higher number reflects the pressure against your arteries when your heart contracts; the lower number represents the pressure of your heart in a resting phase. However, new research released this week says that this may be misleading about optimal heart health and these blood pressure guidelines are actually too high for most people. For some people, such as diabetics, these numbers may be considerably higher than optimal.
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, has often been referred to as “the silent killer” because it frequently offers no signs or symptoms until something catastrophic like a stroke or heart attack occurs. A few lucky patients experience symptoms of high blood pressure: this could be a pounding headache or ringing in the ears along with a general feeling of being unwell. Numerous studies have shown a correlation between prolonged high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, cerebrovascular accident, and myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack. The Inquisitr has reported on multiple studies that show lifestyle changes that can lower blood pressure without prescription medication. You can read more about this here and here.
However, new studies these week show that the medical community may not be treating hypertension as aggressively as it should. In fact, numbers that we once found “healthy” are now sometimes considered hypertensive, or having too high of a blood pressure. Newsweek states that more aggressive treatment of high blood pressure could be “lifesaving.” In fact, the large scale study that was conducted by the National Institutes of Health was stopped early because the evidence was so compelling. Adults, particularly those over 50, are not being treated aggressively enough for high blood pressure.
The findings of the robust study recommends physicians not wait — and take a more aggressive approach — in treating high blood pressure in certain patient populations. The Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT), funded by NIH, finds quicker treatment for hypertension in adults 50-years and older lowered risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke by almost a third and the risk for death due to complications of high blood pressure by a quarter. Certain populations such as those with diabetes may be especially benefitted by an aggressive approach.
While a normal blood pressure reading used to be 120/80, that is now considered pre-hypertensive and should be treated at the least with lifestyle changes instead of a “Watch and Wait” approach. These lifestyle changes include increased exercise, reduction of weight, management of stress, and control of diabetes if present.
However, the study also showed that those with blood pressures in the 140/90 range, lifestyle variation may not be enough. While certainly helpful, these lifestyle changes should be coupled with antihypertensive therapy and close monitoring.
While there’s no need to immediately panic — most high-blood pressure-related illnesses develop gradually over time, it is important that you ask your primary healthcare provider about the new guidelines and your risk factors as well as treatment options. This simple step could save your life.
[photo credit to Getty Images]