Revised measure adds 30 million adults to the hypertension group

Talk about party poopers — as we enter the holiday season, beginning with Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day feast, more of us are being told by experts that we need to eat less and exercise more.

The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology reports that nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, and risk its complications, under new definitions.

High blood pressure has traditionally been defined as 140/90 and above. Now, the preferred number has been lowered to 130/80. Above that you are considered too high.

The new standard adds about 30 million adults to the category. That’s brings to nearly one-half the adult population with what is called hypertension. Ideally, an adult’s blood pressure would be at 120/80, cardiologists say.

It has long been established, doctors note, that high blood pressure, often referred to as a silent killer,  is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.

Dr. William Frishman, a cardiologist who worked closely to release the updated guidelines, said the driving force behind them is that high blood pressure is deadly, yet very preventable.

Good news about the revised guidelines is that medication isn’t the suggested way to reach the numbers.

“The stages of hypertension have been lowered, but we don’t recommend drug treatment right away,” he said. “People with stage 1 — which is anything between 130/80 to 139/89 — should start making lifestyle changes now,” he said.

Paul Welton, a professor at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said lowering the number is essential to effectively reduce complications for high blood pressure in the U.S.

Those in the pre-hypertension category will be counseled to lose weight, change their diets and exercise more. Top of the diet list: cut salt intake and stop smoking. Also high on the limited list are coffee, alcohol, sugar and most processed foods (due to sodium level).

People in their 40’s are a particularly large percentage of the adults in the 130 pressure range, the report says.

The first pressure number, systolic, measures pressure in the blood vessels when the heart beats; the second number, diastolic, measures pressure between beats.

This story includes staff reporting as well as reporting by The Wall Street Journal and Associated Press.