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Time for a blood pressure check

Just in time for the holiday season, the American Heart Association issued updated guidelines on blood pressure, with the not-so-surprising result that more Americans are now considered to have high blood pressure. (Not surprising because when it comes to health, whether or not Americans are objectively “unhealthy,” the American Heart Association isn’t likely to adjust blood pressure guidelines in the opposite direction.)

Most major media outlets, including the New York Times, reported on the change, but we went directly to the source. According to the AHA, roughly “half of U.S. adults could now be classified with high blood pressure,” which does not bode well for those who thought they were in the clear.

130/80 Is the New Normal

“High blood pressure used to be defined,” as per the AHA, “as 140/90.” The new 130/80 obviously changes the story. Quite suddenly, those patients with 130/80 are now marked as at-risk for diseases associated with hypertension – the technical term for high blood pressure – such as heart disease and stroke.

And the AHA is blunt when it points out that heart disease and stroke are the two leading causes of death (not just in the U.S., but in the world).

What This Means for Those Facing Serious Work-related Stress

It’s no secret that stress is a significant factor in elevated blood pressure. The jobs of firefighters, police officers, and first responders, for example, come to mind. But the “physical activity” associated with these jobs (increased physical activity is often associated with decreased blood pressure) could be a double-edged sword.

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress-related spikes in blood pressure, if they occur regularly, may be a factor in longer-term hypertension. It’s fairly safe to assume that more than a few firefighters, police officers, and first responders may find themselves facing “high blood pressure” under the new guidelines, be it from stress or a combination of other common factors, such as lack of exercise (excluding on-the-job “exercise”).

According to the AHA, the number of people newly classified as having high blood pressure as a whole will not be as significant as one might presume – a 14 percent increase, as per the doctor who chaired the guideline committee. Nonetheless, 14 percent still sounds like a sizeable number, and it remains as important as ever for people to pay closer attention to their health, and to take preventive measures to ward off serious disease from the “silent killer” of hypertension.

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