New guidelines redefine high blood pressure, adding another 14 percent of Americans to unhealthy level

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- New guidelines say 120/80 is no longer the gold standard of blood pressure.

The American Heart Association issued new blood pressure guidelines that lower the bar. Now, 120/80 is a warning sign of potential problems in the future.

"High blood pressure has been significant in my family," 28-year-old Kelly Stanze said. "My father actually passed away of a heart attack at the age of 46. I was 12 years old."

During a gynecologist appointment, Stanze was surprised to find out she had high blood pressure despite being only 24 years old. Her blood pressure has hit 160/100, which is incredibly high -- even by the old standards.

With medication and lifestyle changes to her diet and exercise routine, Stanze has been able to hit 120/80 at times, but the new guidelines say she'll need to get her blood pressure even lower.

Shawnee Mission Medical Center cardiologist Andrew Waters said there's no need to panic over the new guidelines, but it's time to take elevated blood pressure readings more seriously.

"Even before these new guidelines, there is a very significant portion of the population was hypertensive." Waters said. "Now we are just catching it a little bit earlier so that means we can take steps to correct the issue before it leads to a problem later on, in terms of cardiovascular morbidity, stoke and so on."

It's been 14 years since the American Heart Association has changed the definition of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Previously, 140/90 was the high line where doctors would medicate patients and recommend drastic lifestyle changes.

Under the new guidelines, if the top number is 130 or higher, there's a problem, which adds an additional 14 percent of the population into the high blood pressure category.

At 120/80, doctors will begin suggesting lifestyle changes to force blood pressure below that threshold.

Stanze, who is a newlywed, said this new information is as important now as ever.

"Still really just starting this beautiful life with my husband," she said. "We want to start a family. We bought a house, so it is very important for me to take care of myself for us to get the most out of this adventure together cause my book is just starting. I want to make sure there are plenty more chapters to come."

Another patient shared her story with Fox 4 Monday.

Patricia Murphy is just a week into news that will forever change the way she lives. She'd been feeling tired but didn't realize her sluggishness came with such a serious diagnosis. She said, "It’s a little bit scary. I just found out I have diabetes. I have high cholesterol, and my blood pressure is high too."

She said they're things that could have been treated soon, if caught sooner. Dr. Andrew Waters at Shawnee Mission Cardiovascular Associates said it's why the American Heart Association is changing the national blood pressure, or hypertension, guidelines.

As she adjusts to life as a diabetic, Murphy warns you, don't go too long without a checkup. "I say don’t ignore the symptoms. If you’re tired, there’s got to be a reason for it," Murphy said.

Highlights of the new blood pressure guidelines suggested by the American Heart Association include:

  • High blood pressure is now defined as readings of 130 mm Hg and higher for the systolic blood pressure measurement, or readings of 80 and higher for the diastolic measurement. That is a change from the old definition of 140/90 and higher, reflecting complications that can occur at those lower numbers.
  • In the first update to comprehensive U.S. guidelines on blood pressure detection and treatment since 2003, the category of prehypertension is eliminated.
  • While about 14 percent more people will be diagnosed with high blood pressure and counseled about lifestyle changes, there will only be a small increase in those who will be prescribed medication.
  • By lowering the definition of high blood pressure, the guidelines recommend earlier intervention to prevent further increases in blood pressure and the complications of hypertension.

The full report can be found at heart.org.