High blood pressure is now defined as readings of 130 over 80 or higher, a change from the old definition of 140 over 90.
Rather than 1 in 3 US adults having high blood pressure with the previous definition, the new guidelines will result in almost half of the USA adult population having the condition.
High blood pressure accounts for the second-largest number of preventable heart disease and stroke deaths in the United States, second only to smoking.
The normal limit for blood pressure is considered 120/80.
This comes after the American Heart Association redefined guidelines for the first time in almost a decade.
"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. High blood pressure sometimes is called the silent killer because it contributes to cardiovascular disease with no symptoms.
He said a diagnosis of the new high blood pressure does not necessarily mean a person needs to take medication, but that "it's a yellow light that you need to be lowering your blood pressure, mainly with non-drug approaches".
Experts expect the new guidelines will greatly impact younger people, with high blood pressure expected to triple among men under 45 and double among women under 45.
The AHA hopes that the new guidelines won't mean more people will use medication, so much as the hope more people will make the lifestyle changes necessary to address hypertension.
Damage to blood vessels is already beginning once blood pressure reaches 130/80, said the guidelines, which were based in part on a major U.S. government-funded study of over 9,000 people nationwide. But only a small percentage of those patients will be prescribed anti-hypertensive medication, the association said.
However, the AHA advises "stage one" patients with blood pressure between 130/80 and 140/90 to lose weight, exercise and eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains before trying medication.
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