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When to Worry About Your Blood Pressure

130/80 is the new high blood pressure threshold. What should your personal blood pressure goal be and when should you worry?

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
November 16, 2017
Episode #252

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illustration of an arm getting blood pressure taken

If you’ve been following the news, you know that there’s some hype about the new blood pressure guidelines that were just released by the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA). Under their new, more stringent guidelines, a significantly greater number of people will be diagnosed with hypertension than before. According to the New York Times, the number of men under age 45 who will be diagnosed will now triple and for women double. 

New High Blood Pressure Threshold

Currently, most adult blood pressure goals have been set to below 140/90. But according to new guidelines, the cut off will be much lower at 130/80.

Before you frantically search for your long lost and forgotten blood pressure monitor, let’s learn a little more about what blood pressure even is and why the changes have been made.

What is Blood Pressure?

You may have wondered what blood pressure really is even measuring, and why there are two different numbers?

Think of your blood vessels as tiny little hoses. Systolic blood pressure, which is the top and higher number of the two, measures the pressure within these lumens when the heart is contracting (i.e. beating). And the diastolic blood pressure is the bottom, lower number, and reflects the pressure within these walls of the arteries when the heart is relaxing (in between the beats). So for instance, 130/80 means a systolic pressure of 130 and a diastolic pressure of 80.

Which one is more important? Well, they both are, and an elevation in either number is sufficient for a diagnosis. But systolic blood pressure is the one that most people often have trouble with, especially as we grow older. With the aging process, plaques and cholesterol build up in the lining of these “hoses,” thereby “stiffening” them. And this stiffening increases the pressure within, namely the systolic pressure. It’s the one that’s been most associated with heart disease risk.

Why Should We Care About Our Blood Pressure?

So what’s the big deal about these numbers? Why should you care? After all, you feel great. You don’t feel any different even though your blood pressure may be a little (or a lot) high. So why should you even consider taking a pill every day when you don’t have any symptoms?

Well, heart disease and stroke is the number one killer of men and women, not just in the United States, but now in the world. And high blood pressure is one of the most preventable risk factors, as are smoking, diabetes, and high cholesterol. There are other risk factors you may not be able to change, like your family history, age, or sex. Doctors care about the blood pressure a lot because it’s one of those risk factors that we actually have control over, and we can save lives by treating it.

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