Millions suddenly have high blood pressure under new preventative measure

By Linda Weiford, WSU News

Sphygmomanometer SPOKANE, Wash. – Tens of millions of Americans didn’t have high blood pressure when they went to bed on Nov. 12 — but they did on Nov. 13.

That’s when the nation’s leading heart health organizations issued new guidelines lowering the diagnostic threshold for determining high blood pressure.

“It’s a dramatic shift for patients and physicians alike. What was considered ‘normal’ is no longer normal,” said internal medicine physician Dawn DeWitt, associate dean of clinical education at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

46 percent have high blood pressure

Under the new guidelines, 130/80 is the new high, compared to the previous measurement of 140/90. This sharply increases the percentage of adults with high blood pressure from 32 percent to 46 percent, according to figures by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, which spearheaded the revision based on recent studies.

DeWitt-Dawn-WSU School of Medicine
DeWitt, associate dean of clinical education at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine

“The logic behind the new guidelines is that the sooner high blood pressure is diagnosed and treated, the greater the chance of preventing problems,” said DeWitt, adding that the condition increases the risk of life-threatening heart attacks, strokes and kidney damage.

Even so, among the 30 million Americans snared by the redefinition of high blood pressure, “I think the news will come as a big surprise to people who had previously been told that their blood pressure was fine. It’s bound to produce some confusion and anxiety,” she explained.

Diet, exercise vs. medication

How to keep the new blood pressure guidelines from raising yours?

Keep in mind that the majority of those in the newly diagnosed range will be advised to make lifestyle changes, including a healthier diet, weight loss, exercise and limiting alcohol. Only a small fraction of those who fall into the Stage 1 category should require medication, said DeWitt.

Also, try not to get too focused on numbers, she advised, because when it comes to assessing blood pressure, one size doesn’t fit all. For example, a patient with a reading of 150/90 in otherwise good health is not the same as a patient with the same reading who has diabetes or kidney disease.

Finally, work with your health care practioner to come up with treatment options and goals based on your particular situation, said DeWitt.  Even patients with complicating risk factors have individual differences that can effectively shape treatment plans.

“My hope is that these new guidelines won’t simply result in a lot more people being labeled with a medical condition, but instead will provide them an opportunity to work with their doctors on how to be healthy in the long run.”



  • Dr. Dawn Elise DeWitt, associate dean of clinical education, WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine,, 509-368-6841