The new blood pressure guidelines: Messages you may have missed

The new guidelines set a lower target and emphasize lifestyle changes. Here's why eating less salt is important.

High blood pressure — a major cause of heart attack and stroke — recently became far more prevalent in the United States, but not because people have become suddenly less healthy. Last fall, new guidelines lowered the threshold for diagnosing the condition, which used to be defined as a blood pressure reading of 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher. Now, anyone with a reading of 130/80 mm Hg or higher is considered to have high blood pressure (also known as hypertension). Nearly half of adults now fall into this group.

Many cardiologists welcomed the updated guidelines, published in the Nov. 7, 2017, Journal of the American College of Cardiology. "The new guidelines are based upon a growing body of evidence that lower blood pressure values are associated with fewer major adverse cardiovascular events, including heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure," says Dr. Randall Zusman, a hypertension expert at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Over all, people with Stage 1 hypertension (see "Blood pressure categories") have double the risk of those events compared with people who have normal blood pressure.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »