New guidelines released by the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology and other health organizations now mean that 46% of Americans are considered to have high blood pressure.The report says that high blood pressure should now be treated as 130/80 instead of 140/90 as set out in current guidelines. Hypertension or high blood pressure is second only to smoking for causing preventable heart disease and stroke deaths, according to the report.

Dr. William White, a professor in the cardiology center at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine said in response to the guidelines that “Practicing physicians and the public are going to be a little bit shocked or taken aback by a diagnosis of Stage 1 hypertension with a blood pressure of 130/80, which historically has been considered a normal, well-controlled blood pressure. That will involve 50% of men and 38% of all adult women in the US.”

The new guidelines mean that there will be 14% more Americans diagnosed with high blood pressure, putting the figures at 103.3 million people instead of the previous figure of 72.2 million. There is some confusing among doctors as to how to treat these extra patients.Although the report is not clear it’s thought that patients will be offered advice about making lifestyle changes like “watching your salt, exercising more regularly, relaxing, getting a proper amount of sleep, eating a little more potassium-rich fruits and vegetables,”  rather than being prescribed medication.

The new recommendations also give advice on the use, accuracy and frequency of blood pressure monitoring, with White claiming that there is “a fairly substantial rate of blood pressure variability in doctor’s offices from one day to the next, from one week to the next. It’s actually not the most robust measurement,” he said. “We are sometimes totally shocked when we put a 24-hour blood pressure monitor on a patient, by what the differences are compared to normal activities in normal life compared to what it can be in doctors’ office. It can be drastic.”

Drugs will still be recommended for patients with other health conditions and diseases related to high blood pressure, but it’s thought that the new rules will “Cause the greatest amount of controversy with physicians” Dr. Tom Frieden, president and CEO of the Resolve to Save Lives campaign, said that “the new guidelines clearly state treatment with medicine should begin if a patient reaches 140/90, an important piece of clarity in an area that has experienced much debate.

“The drugs approved to treat high blood pressure are all generic. For just a few dollars a day, you can save millions of lives” He also pointed out that high blood pressure is “sorely undertreated” in the US and worldwide, and that “This is unacceptable, and we’re committed to seeing this change.”

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