New normal: Do you have high blood pressure?

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - Do you know what your blood pressure is? If your answer is, "it's normal," but you haven't had it checked in a while, you might want to go back for another look. 

That's because there's a new normal.

Recently released American Heart Association guidelines, the first since 2003, have lowered what's considered healthy blood pressure to numbers under 120/80.

That means millions more people are being diagnosed with hypertension.

A young cardiologist's story may open your eyes about who develops high blood pressure.

Dr. Janet Eichholz is the picture of health - an avid runner, who knows how to take care of herself. After all, she is a cardiologist.

However, Eichholz is also a cardiology patient, getting regular blood pressure checks after recently learning hers was way too high: a scary 150/90.

"For the last several months," Eichholz said, "I've been having headaches on a daily basis and I attributed that to stress, not sleeping enough, et cetera."

Eichholz knew it was something more serious when she started having blurry vision as well.

Even though she has a family history of high blood pressure, she didn't think her numbers would be so high.

"I was pretty shocked. I'm not surprised. I have a very strong family history. I kind of figured it would happen at some point, but it was hard to swallow, to accept that I was officially hypertensive, and that I would need to be on medication," Eichholz said.

Every day, she takes a low dose of the blood pressure pill Edarbi, one of dozens of medications out there. It's more expensive as a brand name drug, but there are several generic brands that literally cost pennies a day.

Eichholz says while side effects are minimal, there is something to be aware of whenever your blood pressure starts to normalize.

"Know that when you start a blood pressure medication, as your blood pressure starts to come down, you may feel a little 'off,' you may not feel quite right, because your brain has been used to high blood pressure for a period of time."

Her colleague and director of cardiovascular research at Tennova Turkey Creek, Dr. Malcolm Foster, underscores that fact that 120/80 isn't something to shoot for. You want your blood pressure to be below that.

"If your blood pressure is consistently in the 120s, the top number, that is elevated blood pressure. And if it's consistently in the 130s, that's stage one of hypertension," said Foster.

Outside of family history, Foster says being overweight, not getting exercise, smoking, a high salt diet, and reliance on Ibuprofen can lead to high blood pressure.

WATE 6 On Your Side anchor Lori Tucker says she and her sister Debbie try to lead a healthy lifestyle, but they have a family history. Their mother died of a stroke five years ago, and their dad has high blood pressure and a pacemaker.

Foster checked their blood pressure. Debbie's was right at the normal 120/72 while Lori's was 110/70.

Foster recommends having a blood pressure cuff at home. Jot down your numbers at the same time of day for a week to see what your consistent number is.

High blood pressure can cause problems other than heart disease. Research shows it can also lead to stroke, aneurysm, kidney failure, and trouble with memory or understanding.

Foster also explained when to get your children checked.

"It's valuable to start checking high blood pressure in teenagers and even children, particularly in people who have a family history of high blood pressure," he said. "So it's important to know about that. Not necessarily that a child or teenager is going to go on blood pressure medication, but we start to make an impact on lifestyle and teach them there are food choices that they can change, and lifestyle - getting weight down."

New blood pressure guidelines

Source: American College of Cardiology

  • Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg
  • Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80
  • Stage 1 hypertension: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
  • Stage 2 hypertension: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg
  • Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120,with patients needing prompt changes in medication if there are not other indications of problems, or immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage

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