If you were diagnosed with pre-hypertension the last time you got your blood pressure checked, you should plan on having it checked again soon. New guidelines for high blood pressure will now classify nearly half of U.S. adults (46 percent) with having this condition, which often has no obvious symptoms. These new classifications are also expected to triple the number of men under age 45 who have high blood pressure and double the number for women in the same age bracket.

A Major Threat to Health

High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease, which kills more Americans and Canadians than any other health condition.

Numerous other health conditions can also be affected by high blood pressure including stroke and kidney disease.

High blood pressure is treated with lifestyle changes and in some instances, medication.

The guidance, which was jointly released by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, now defines high blood pressure at 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Until now, 140/90 mm Hg was the benchmark. As previously reported in a Lifelines series on high blood pressure, many people with elevated blood pressure are often able to lower it without medication by cutting back on foods that are high in salt, moderately increasing physical activity and if they use tobacco products, quitting the habit.

Under the new guidelines, blood pressure categories will include “elevated,” “Stage 1 and Stage 2 hypertension” and “hypertensive crisis.” A normal blood pressure reading is still considered less than 120/80 mm Hg.

“We’re recognizing that blood pressures that we in the past thought were normal or so-called pre-hypertensive actually placed the patient at significant risk for heart disease and death and disability,” said Robert M. Carey, co-chairman of the group that produced the new report. “The risk hasn’t changed. What’s changed is our recognition of the risk.”

The new guidance is based on a federal study of more than 9,000 adults age 50 and older that found earlier treatment significantly reduced rates of heart disease and death in that age bracket. The study is also examining how earlier treatment for high blood pressure affects kidney disease, cognitive function and dementia. Those results are not expected to be released until 2019.

Make Sure Your Blood Pressure Is Taken Correctly

Recommendations for taking blood pressure have also changed. Be aware that your health care provider may ask you to do the following before your test. If you’re taking your own blood pressure at home, follow these steps to help avoid a false reading.

Before you take your blood pressure:

  • Do not exercise, consume caffeine or smoke within 30 minutes of your test.

Taking your blood pressure:

  • Empty your bladder before your blood pressure is taken.
  • Sit in a chair, feet flat on the ground, legs uncrossed, with your back supported and without talking, for at least five minutes before you get your blood pressure measured. Sitting or lying down increases risk for a false low blood pressure reading.
  • Roll up your sleeve so the blood pressure cuff rests on your skin, not your clothing.
  • Don’t let your arm dangle or rest in your lap during the reading. Make sure it’s supported on a level surface such as a desk or nightstand.

The LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Division has developed a number of materials that can help Laborers reduce their risk for high blood pressure and manage the condition if they already have it. These include the Nutrition & Fitness for Laborers manual and pamphlets and the High Blood Pressure Health Alert. For more information, call 202-628-5465. Additional materials on nutrition, diet and general wellness can be ordered through the online Publications Catalogue.

Health fairs are opportunities for Laborers to get their blood pressure and other health indicators checked for free without having to take time off to go elsewhere for screenings. LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions, signatory employers and other LIUNA affiliates can request health fairs at upcoming events by calling the Fund’s Health Promotion Division at 202-628-5465.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]