Were you one of several million Americans who woke up with high blood pressure on Monday? The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association released new blood pressure guidelines on November 13, 2017. The goal is to enhance awareness about elevated blood pressure and emphasize the importance of managing elevated blood pressure through healthy lifestyle changes and medications with the ultimate goal of reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke (cardiovascular disease). The guidelines have lowered the threshold for the diagnosis of high blood pressure (hypertension) and this change will impact the care of several million Americans.
“I like the excitement and the call-to-action raised by the guidelines,” explains HCMC cardiologist Dr. Woubeshet Ayenew, “and I give it a score of A for the educational aspect; however, I have to give it a lower grade when it comes to the practicality of properly measuring blood pressure and implementing the guidelines in daily clinical practice.”
Dr. Ayenew is concerned about patients being put on hypertension medications prematurely instead of being encouraged to undertake therapeutic lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise and weight reduction that will have significant impact on reducing abnormal blood pressure.
“The guidelines are explicit in stating that these lifestyle changes are the first line of therapy for elevated blood pressure and they should be strictly implemented for about 6 months in most cases before medications are considered,” he says. “However, under the guise of efficiency, this step is frequently skipped or truncated and patients find themselves on a blood pressure pill.”
What should people get out of the new blood pressure guidelines?
Elevated blood pressure continues to be a silent killer and it is the second most preventable risk factor for heart attack and stroke in America. Everyone needs to know this and should have the goal to get their blood pressure checked properly at least once a year. Also people need to be deliberate about implementing appropriate lifestyle changes in the form of balanced diet, exercise and weight management. Many people will be able to avoid the need for blood pressure pills by taking full control of their health. In the long term, these people will prove to be at a much lower risk for cardiovascular disease and they will lead a longer, meaningful and functional life. Medications should not be the first option but rather the last resort in the management of elevated blood pressure.
“If this news has alerted you to the value of blood pressure in your long term well-being, then the guidelines have been a success,” says Dr. Ayenew. “Know your blood pressure numbers and look towards lifestyle changes you can implement starting today to place yourself at a lower risk for heart attack and stroke. Going into the holidays, share this knowledge with friends and family and encourage each other on committing towards sustained healthy lifestyle changes. Remember that you and your actions will have the highest impact on your long-term cardiovascular health.”
Hennepin Heart Center at Hennepin County Medical Center has a long tradition of delivering patient-centered, high-quality cardiovascular care. Using the latest interventions, cardiac specialists provide expertise in arrhythmia management, cardiac catheterization, rehabilitation, surgery, monitoring and imaging, and cardiac therapies. Hennepin Heart Center is one of 8 regional centers comprising the Heart Failure Research Network established by the National Institutes of Health. Visit www.hcmc.org for more information about Hennepin Heart Center.