New standards mean more people will be diagnosed with high blood pressure | SteamboatToday.com

New standards mean more people will be diagnosed with high blood pressure

New guidelines change what it means to have high blood pressure and how it should be monitored.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There is a new normal for blood pressure standards, and that news may come as a shock to many Routt County residents the next time they head to the doctor’s office for their yearly physical.

"The new data is based on all the studies that have been done in the last 14 years," said Dr. Will Baker, a cardiologist with UCHealth Heart and Vascular Clinics in Steamboat Springs and Craig. “But the guidelines also take into account all that we have learned about high blood pressure in the last 40 to 50 years. It essentially means a lot more people are going to be classified as having high blood pressure."

Changes set forth by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have dropped the new normal from 140 over 90 to 120 over 80.

"The numbers have sort of fallen to where we start to think about treatment and that sort of thing at 130 over 80," Baker said. "Normal is now 120 over 80 and anything above those recommendations, a person should start to consider yourself with elevated or high pressure."

Baker said that doesn't necessarily mean that person will be prescribed medications, but his hopes are that those numbers will start a conversation between the patient and the providers that will include possible lifestyle changes that could help reduce the person's risk of heart attack or stroke.

The new guidelines, which will redefine longstanding benchmarks,  were released in November as part of major studies and in-depth research. The guidelines also lay out new standards of how blood pressure should be monitored before, and while, a patient is being treated.

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"When you look at the numbers, it is pretty phenomenal, and that risk goes up as people get older,” Baker said. “By the time people are in their late 60s or 70s, probably 80 to 90 percent of people could be technically classified as having high blood pressure."

The guidelines suggest measurements must be obtained from at least two careful readings on at least two different occasions. The guidelines set out a six-step process on how to correctly measure blood pressure, and include patients monitoring blood pressure at home where they can be the most relaxed.

"The guidelines are not only very specific about what constitutes high blood pressure, but how it needs to be measured," Baker said.

He said there is a greater emphasis on patients using home blood pressure readings, and that people should invest in inexpensive cuffs that can be used at home and tracked so that doctors have a better understanding of each patient’s individual numbers.

"A single blood pressure reading in your doctor's office is not the best way to decide who needs treatment," Baker said.

He said the best monitors will measure blood pressure three consecutive times and then average the readings for accuracy. In some cases, an ambulatory blood pressure monitor is used, which continuously monitors blood pressure every 30 minutes for the period of a day. Those numbers are then used to determine the proper course of treatment.

"I think that is an important point to make that these numbers don't  necessarily mean that more people need mediations, although there is a reasonable expectation," Baker said. "As a general rule, doctors are going to address lifestyle efforts in everybody."

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.