LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Department of Health and other healthcare providers are adopting new hypertension (high blood pressure) guidelines developed by the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and nine other health professional organizations.

The new guidelines redefine high blood pressure, treatment thresholds, goals, and medications in the management of hypertension in adults. This is the first update to the U.S. guidelines on blood pressure detection and treatment since 2003. These changes mean that high blood pressure is now defined as readings of 130 and higher for the systolic blood pressure measurement (top number), or readings of 80 and higher for the diastolic measurement (bottom number).

That is a change from the old definition of 140/90 and higher, and reflects the health impact that can occur at those lower numbers.

These guidelines mean that some patients who were not thought to have high blood pressure may now be considered hypertensive. Hypertension leads to illness and death, but it can be prevented.

Important lifestyle changes can help people who have high blood pressure reduce their risk of a heart attack or stroke. These include quitting smoking, moving more, and eating healthy foods.

Smoking increases a person’s risk for heart disease because it raises a person’s blood pressure. By quitting smoking, people can lower their blood pressure and reduce their risk of heart disease. Arkansans can get help quitting by contacting the Arkansas Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Physical activity and a healthy diet that is low in red meat and full of a variety of fruits and vegetables are important in the fight against heart disease. Foods that have whole grains and protein and are low in calories and low in saturated fat can help lower blood pressure.

Often there are no symptoms of high blood pressure, even though it is one of the biggest reasons people suffer from heart attack and stroke. Arkansas leads the nation for the highest heart attack death rates and is number five in the nation for the highest stroke death rates.

Patients should work with their doctor to understand their blood pressure and make healthy changes to prevent illness and death. Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, moving more and eating a healthy diet can make a big difference in managing high blood pressure.