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Know your numbers: What do the new blood pressure guidelines mean for you?

This article on new blood pressure guidelines and how to lower blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle by Dr. Sara Rahman, in Internal Medicine at Stanwood Clinic, originally appeared in the Stanwood Camano News.

Know your numbers: What do the new blood pressure guidelines mean for you?
Dr. Sara Rahman

Do you watch your blood pressure? Have you heard about the new recommendations for blood pressure numbers and asked what they may mean for you?

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common medical problem that has been linked to heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and even death. When I see patients in my office who have hypertension, I talk with them about their blood pressure. We discuss whether we need to adjust their treatment plans for hypertension if they have not yet met their goal blood pressure.

Some of this discussion may now be different. In December 2013, a panel of experts on hypertension (the Joint National Committee known as JNC 8) published updated recommendations for blood pressure goals in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The new recommendations actually allow for higher blood pressure numbers:

  • For people who are 60 and older, the blood pressure goal is now 150/90. (versus 130/80 previously)
  • For people under age 60, the goal is 140/90. (120/80 previously)

The new recommendations were made due to studies that showed blood pressure did not need to be kept as low as previously thought to prevent harm. It may mean that younger patients can be prescribed less medicine to treat hypertension.

Interestingly, the committee stated that even if a person has diabetes, heart problems or kidney disease, these same blood pressure goals would apply. This decision was drawn from studies that have looked at thousands of people with hypertension. The committee reinforced that lifestyle treatments of diet, exercise, and weight control are all key in keeping patients healthy and lowering blood pressure. These should absolutely still be continued and pursued.

Some resources or suggestions for a healthy lifestyle to lower high blood pressure include:

  • Eat healthy foods. Try the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan.
  • Be physically active. Aim for least 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Losing even 10 pounds can lower blood pressure, if you’re overweight.
  • Reduce sodium intake to less than 2.3 grams per day, about a teaspoon of table salt.
  • Limit alcohol intake to two drinks in a day for men and a one drink in a day for women. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
  • If you smoke, quit. It reduces the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

The new blood pressure recommendations may mean your health care provider will prescribe fewer medications to lower blood pressure. However, these are only recommendations! Each person needs to be treated as an individual for their blood pressure and hypertension. The guidelines do not recommend discontinuing your current treatment based on these new goals. It is clear to me though that these decisions about blood pressure goals need to be part of a discussion with your doctor. This discussion will facilitate good communication and teamwork towards achieving control of blood pressure and decreasing your risk of hypertension-related diseases. As always, talk to your doctor.

Dr. Sara Rahman sees patients at The Everett Clinic, Stanwood Clinic. Dr. Rahman is board certified in Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Care and Hospice. She completed her residency in Internal Medicine and earned a fellowship in Geriatric Medicine at University of Alabama at Birmingham. She earned her medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin in 2000. She is a graduate of Stanwood High School and is happy to be back in the area and able to use what she has learned in medicine to help her community.