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Battling the Numbers: New Blood Pressure Guidelines

For the first time in 14 years, a new set of blood pressure guidelines have been released by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. Previously, high blood pressure was defined with a reading of 140/90 or higher. Now, individuals with readings of 130 over 80 are considered to have high blood pressure, putting approximately 46% of adults in the United States in the category of hypertension.

Sounds like a lot of people, right? It is. But even with these overwhelming statistics, the hope is to reduce blood pressure levels nationwide using the new guidelines. We recently talked with Dr. Wayne Leimbach, Jr., medical director at Oklahoma Heart Institute, to learn more about these new guidelines and how people can maintain a healthy blood pressure.

“At the Oklahoma Heart Institute, we very much endorse these new guidelines,” shares Leimbach. “We have been aggressively treating our patients all along to these levels. Hypertension is one of the major risk factors for heart attacks, strokes and death from heart attacks and strokes. The data overwhelmingly shows that aggressively treating high blood pressure significantly drops the chances of these occurring. Previously, it was said that if you have high blood pressure and are diabetic, or you have high blood pressure and coronary disease, you are supposed to follow the levels in the new guidelines. When we would talk with patients and they read as 140/90, it was hard to convince them to lower that number, even after we would show them the data. Now, these official numbers really show that you want those numbers to be less than 130/80.”

The relationship between high blood pressure and heart disease plays a huge part in the guidelines changes. “It’s such a big deal because the number one cause of death in America is cardiovascular disease. So, when you see these percentages of reduction, you are talking about saving thousands of lives. The public still doesn’t realize this, and it cannot be advertised enough. The good news about cardiology is prevention works. This is a treatable problem. You’d much rather take a bunch of medicine now and stay out of trouble than take medications because you developed heart failure or have been disabled due to a stroke,” says Dr. Leimbach.

While medications are a great tool for controlling levels, the best thing you can do for high blood pressure is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. “Lifestyle modifications still work. Everyone knows they should get more exercise, and everyone knows they should eat healthier, but a lot of people don’t. The issue is, if you are willing to make the lifestyle changes, that is great, but if you don’t or you can’t, seek treatment and start taking necessary medications,” Dr. Leimbach urges. “If you are receiving treatment, your blood pressure is down and you have made lifestyle modifications, there’s a chance you could come off of the medications. The official guidelines tell you to try those lifestyle modifications first, but we all know it can be very difficult to live a super healthy life. It’s the right answer, but practically, if you can’t do it, you should start treatment.”

Working with your doctors on a management routine and monitoring your numbers are vital steps in making sure you can stick to the new guidelines. “At Oklahoma Heart Institute, we offer the Health Management Resource Weight Loss Program, which is very effective. We also offer classes with the program that provide support and teach participants how to properly make these lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Leimbach. “If you are willing to do it, there’s no question that it’s a wonderful choice. But, if you are too busy or just can’t seem to commit, take the treatment. It works! That’s the amazing thing.”

If you have any questions or concerns about where your blood pressure numbers stand, you can schedule an appointment with Oklahoma Heart Institute by calling (910) 592-0999.