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The Making of Medicine

Millions More Now Have High Blood Pressure

Our Robert Carey, MD, was a lead architect of new guidelines that lower the definition of high blood pressure. The change means almost half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure.

Dr. Carey, the former dean of the School of Medicine, talked to the New York Times for its story on the dramatic impact of the new definition from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. “The numbers are scary,” he told the Times. And right he is: 103 million American adults now have high blood pressure. The change essentially triples the number of men younger than 45 who have high blood pressure and doubles the number of women affected among that age group.

The revision, the first in 14 years, defines normal blood pressure as 120/80, down from 140/90. It calls for treatment of high blood pressure, either with lifestyle changes or, in some cases, medication, at 130/80 — numbers that used to be within the acceptable range.

This is tremendously important work from Dr. Carey, who served as vice chairman of the committee that wrote the guidelines. High blood pressure is a huge contributor to heart attacks and strokes. It also causes hypertensive heart disease, kidney failure, maybe even dementia. The effects on health are far-reaching, and many people don’t even know they have high blood pressure (especially as newly defined).

The good news is that there are simple steps that can help control your blood pressure. Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Exercise. Manage your stress. Limit how much salt you eat and how much alcohol you drink. Don’t smoke. Keep your weight under control.

Of course, everyone knows they should do those things, and it’s often easier said than done. Still, the new guidelines underscore just how important it is, and I hope the change will be the impetus for many people to turn good intentions into action.

Here’s more information from the American Heart Association. If you have high blood pressure under the new definition, please do something about it. It could save your life.

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