When one in three becomes one in two, take notice.
On any given day, right here in southwest Wisconsin, thousands of people are going about their lives unaware they’re at increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Even worse, the number of people in that risky category very recently increased (by thousands) when the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association revised their guidelines for high blood pressure.
It’s estimated one in three Americans have high blood pressure, a condition also known as hypertension, and about half of them don’t know they have it. That’s according to the old standards. Based on the guidelines released in November of 2017, that number stands far closer to half of all U.S. adults – 46%.
That’s because what was historically considered a normal, well-controlled blood pressure of 130/80 is now categorized as stage 1 hypertension. The new guidelines define normal as less than 120/80. And whenever systolic pressure (the first number) is in the 130 to 139 range or the diastolic (second number) lands between 80 and 89, a person is referred to as having Stage 1 hypertension. Stage 2 is when those numbers are 140/90 or greater.
For starters, hypertension or high blood pressure is the leading indicator for who is likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke. And it usually comes with no warning signs or symptoms, so people don’t even know they have it. Because there are some simple steps that you and your doctor can do to decrease your blood pressure and reduce your risks of these deadly health events, it’s vital for people to know where they stand.
And though here in southwest Wisconsin we’re happily a little healthier than the national average in terms of hypertension, that’s certainly no reason to sweep the big potential downsides of the condition under the rug.
Why the change in guidelines now?
Perhaps we could chalk it up to better science available providing insights into the risks, or perhaps it’s changing lifestyles and obesity rates in America.
The new guidelines were developed by a collaboration of 11 professional health organizations and were written by a panel of 21 scientists and health experts who reviewed more than 900 published scientific studies. Furthermore, the guidelines received a careful systematic review and approval process before being released.
So, maybe the better question to ask ourselves is do we have it? And if so, what should we do about it?
The first step is knowing and tracking your blood pressure if you’re not already doing so. In fact, many experts believe it’s actually younger adults who may benefit the most from giving their numbers some attention because for older folks, so many already do. So, if you don’t know what your blood pressure is or if you’re unsure what it all means for you, make an appointment with your primary care doctor.
Secondly, though you’ve likely heard there are medications that can quickly and effectively help you bring blood pressure down (and save your life), there are plenty of other steps you can take. Talk about these, too, with your doctor. Working even seemingly minor changes into one’s diet and everyday activities can pay big dividends quickly in terms of blood pressure. Some simple changes are:
- Reducing salt and/or potassium intake. In addition to not putting added salt in or on your food, try eating more fresh food rather than packaged foods or even just paying greater attention to food labels on the products you buy.
- Work more exercise into your daily routines. Whether that’s starting a regular walk several times a week, joining a gym, getting yourself a bike, registering for a yoga class, or even just parking farther away from your work or other daily driving destinations, there lots of possibilities.
- Set aside time to get your sleep. Study after study shows many Americans aren’t getting enough, despite the many clear and important benefits of this simple change. Most of us are spending more than ample time in front of TV screens and on our internet devices, and most of that is time that could be easily traded for helpful healthy rest.
- Meditate. Relax. A few minutes a day of simple breathing exercises, time away from the hustle and bustle of kids and jobs and responsibilities, and a regular yoga or meditation practice can all substantially improve one’s blood pressure.
- Eat more vegetables. You’ve heard this message before, but perhaps the simplest advice from author Michael Polan is, “Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”
The bottom line is hypertension/high blood pressure is too often ignored by too many people, and the result is too often tragic. When such a simple test – blood pressure – is widely available and the solutions to numbers that come in too high are so basic, we all need to do more. Your health care professionals are ready to help. Isn’t it time you made sure you’re not one of the one in two with high blood pressure?