Nearly half of adults in Maine likely have high blood pressure under new guidelines announced Monday. A national physician task force has changed the definition of hypertension, and is recommending more patients receive treatment earlier.
Before the new guidelines were published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the threshold for what is considered high blood pressure was 140/90. Now, it’s 130/80. And the change is expected to triple the rate of high blood pressure for men under 45, and double it for women under 45.
“I think people are going to be alarmed to wake up this morning to find out that they have hypertension, when they didn’t have hypertension yesterday,” says Dr. James Jarvis, interim vice president and chief medical officer at Eastern Maine Medical Center.
Jarvis says before the new guidelines, about a third of Mainers had hypertension, or high blood pressure. Now, it’s nearly half. And while the lowered threshold may cause some initial alarm, Jarvis says he supports the change.
“The purpose of this was really to get the individuals who are on that borderline, or what we used to call pre-hypertension, to get the sort of treatment beforehand, before they progressed on to having their risk factors for things like heart disease and stroke increases,” he says.
High blood pressure is sometimes called a silent killer because there are no symptoms. But it increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
Though more people will need treatment, Jarvis says most of those newly defined as having high blood pressure will not need medication.
“What they would require is things that we call behavioral, or lifestyle modification,” he says.
Such as maintaining a health weight, exercising two and a half hours every week, limiting alcohol and Not smoking. But physicians and patients will have their work cut out for them. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, only about half of Americans with high blood pressure as defined by the old standard have it under control.