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How HIGH is high blood pressure?

I’m probably going to tell my age here, but in elementary school I remember learning that normal blood pressure was 120/80 to 140/90.

Then, a few years back, 100/70 to 120/80 became the target range, but your health care provider would likely not give you a diagnosis of high blood pressure, or hypertension, until you got to 140/90 for a couple of visits.

Early this year, however, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology lowered the limit again to 130/80 as the point at which we should begin prescribing medication for the control of blood pressure.

So what is a good blood pressure?

120/80 or below is where there is acceptable level of stress on the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys.

Unfortunately, pressures even as high as 200/100 often do not cause symptoms. Headache and blurred vision are often attributed to high blood pressure, but these are not reliable indicators.

One can have a headache with normal blood pressure or no headache with really high blood pressure. By the time one starts to have symptoms related to high blood pressure, it is often very late in the process of kidney failure or heart failure, or both.

Heart attack or stroke can occur suddenly and without warning. For this reason, the AHA and ACC lowered the treatment point to increase the probability that people will get treated earlier and perhaps not aggressively to reduce the number of deaths from heart disease and stroke.

So check your blood pressure, even when you don’t feel ill, and let your healthcare provider know if your blood pressure is consistently higher than 130/80. Your heart and kidneys will thank you.

Beverly J. Howard, PhD, RN, FNP-BC

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