Nearly 70 million American adults have high blood pressure. That’s one in every three adults, and only about half of the people with high blood pressure have their condition under control.
According to current guidelines, the stages of high blood pressure in adults are as follows:
Prehypertension: 120-139 systolic (top number) or 80-89 diastolic (bottom number).
High blood pressure Stage 1: 140-159 systolic or 90-99 diastolic.
High blood pressure Stage 2: 160 or higher systolic or 100 or higher diastolic.
A new study, however, recommends a more aggressive approach to blood pressure treatment by lowering blood pressure guidelines. The study, called SPRINT, found that lower blood pressure targets greatly reduce cardiovascular complications and deaths in older adults.
The study randomly assigned more than 9,300 men and women over age 50 who were at risk of heart disease or had kidney disease to one of two systolic blood pressure targets: less than 120 and less than 140. Patients who were assigned to reach a systolic blood pressure goal below 120 reduced their risk of heart attacks, heart failure and strokes reduced by a third, and their risk of death due to heart attack, heart failure and stroke by nearly a quarter.
“Our results provide important evidence that treating blood pressure to a lower goal in older or high-risk patients can be beneficial and yield better health results overall,” said Lawrence Fine, M.D., chief, Clinical Applications and Prevention Branch at NHLBI in a press release on the study. “But patients should talk to their doctor to determine whether this lower goal is best for their individual care.”
How to Control High Blood Pressure
Individuals who are diagnosed with high blood pressure are generally prescribed medication to keep their blood pressure within a controlled target range. In addition to medications, there are lifestyle changes you can make to lower your blood pressure, thus reducing your risk of heart disease.
Lose weight. Blood pressure typically correlates with weight. As you gain weight, you will likely see an increase in blood pressure. Shedding those extra pounds is one of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure. Even losing just 10 pounds can make a difference. Extra weight around the waistline can put you at greater risk of high blood pressure, so be sure to keep an eye on your midsection.
Eat a healthy diet. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) can lower blood pressure as much as 14 points. DASH is a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and limited saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium intake.
The effect of sodium on blood pressure varies depending on age, race and existing health conditions, but in general, you should consume less than 2,300mg of sodium a day. People with a salt sensitivity should consume no more than 1,500mg a day. Eating plenty of potassium can help reduce the effects sodium can have on your blood pressure.
Exercise. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Doing so can lower your blood pressure by four to nine points. Exercise can help individuals diagnosed with prehypertension to avoid hypertension, and can bring blood pressure to safer levels in individuals with hypertension.
Limit alcohol intake. The saying “everything in moderation” applies to alcohol. Drinking limited amounts of alcohol may actually lower your blood pressure by two to four points, but drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure by several points and reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications. As a general recommendation, limit your alcohol consumption to no more than one drink a day (12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor).
Quit smoking. Smoking increases your blood pressure temporarily with each cigarette, but quitting smoking altogether can help keep your blood pressure within normal ranges and increase life expectancy.
Reduce stress. Some stress is unavoidable, but chronic stress can cause high blood pressure. Consider the source of your stress and find a way to resolve it healthily. Make a plan to solve problems, take time to relax and do hobbies or activities you enjoy, know what triggers your stress and, if possible, eliminate sources of stress.
Most importantly, monitor your blood pressure at home and see your doctor regularly. High blood pressure isn’t something to mess around with. It can significantly increase your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and premature death. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, take medications as prescribed and talk to your doctor about effective measures you can take to help lower your blood pressure.