Confused by new blood pressure guidelines? UK expert has answers.

A man has his blood pressure checked.
John Kotter, MD

Dr. John Kotter is a cardiologist at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.

Late last year, multiple organizations – including the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology – released new recommendations to help patients and their healthcare providers better understand and treat high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

Although these new guidelines are meant to clarify some of the confusion around high blood pressure, it can still be difficult to know exactly what your numbers mean. Let me explain.

How is blood pressure measured?

When your blood pressure is measured, you’ll hear two numbers. The first number (or the top number) is your systolic pressure; this is the pressure in the blood vessels when your heart contracts. The second number is your diastolic pressure – the pressure in the blood vessels when your heart is relaxing.

What do my numbers mean?

According to new guidelines:

  • Normal blood pressure is defined as less than 120/80 mmHg.
  • Elevated blood pressure is defined by having a systolic pressure of 120 to 129 mmHg and a diastolic pressure of less than 80 mmHg.
  • Stage 1 hypertension is defined as blood pressure greater than 130/80 mmHg.
  • Stage 2 hypertension, which is more severe, is defined as 140/90 mmHg or more.

How does high blood pressure affect my health?

When you have high blood pressure, you have an elevated risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney failure. For most people, hypertension doesn’t have any noticeable symptoms, so it may be hurting your health without you realizing it.

By having your blood pressure checked and knowing if you have hypertension, you can take measures to lower your risk of more serious health concerns.

How is hypertension managed?

Your blood pressure should be lower than 140/90 mmHg and ideally lower than 130/80 mmHg. If you have high blood pressure, discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider.

The good news is that you have a lot of control over your blood pressure. Here are a few lifestyle changes you can make to lower your blood pressure:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Eat a plant-based diet.
  • Limit your salt intake.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption.
  • Exercise regularly.

In addition to making lifestyle changes, some individuals need medication in order to control their hypertension. Most people are able to control their blood pressure with a combination of lifestyle efforts and medication.

For people that aren’t able to control their blood pressure in this way, there are clinical trials that are investigating devices and/or procedures to lower blood pressure.

If you’ve exhausted other options, talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may help you better control your hypertension, or call Alex Hunter at 859-323-5259 for information about ongoing clinical trials at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.