You Might Not Have High Blood Pressure

Hypertension may need to be redefined

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Under the current definition of 'abnormal' blood pressure, millions of Americans have unhealthy blood pressure levels. However, new research suggests that we may need to reconsider current standards for defining unhealthy blood pressure.

In a recent study, researchers found that as many as 100 million people in the United States may be inaccurately classified as having abnormal blood pressure. The study revealed that these people do not face a greater risk of early death compared to those with so-called 'normal' blood pressure (below 120/80).

dailyRx Insight: The current definition of high blood pressure may not lead to poor health.

Using data from more than 13,000 individuals, Dr. Brent Taylor, from the Veterans Affairs Health Care System and the University of Minnesota, and colleagues studied how blood pressure affected risk of death. Specifically, the researchers looked at the respective impact of systolic blood pressure (the highest pressure within the bloodstream, occurring when the heart contracts) and diastolic blood pressure (the lowest pressure, occurring when the heart relaxes) on mortality.

Their results showed that having a systolic blood pressure above 140 - independent of diastolic blood pressure - increased the risk of early death among people over 50 years of age. In people 50 years of age and younger, a diastolic blood pressure exceeding 100 was associated with an increased risk of early death.

According to the authors, the study's results suggest that the current definition of normal blood pressure - which is a systolic blood pressure of 120 and a diastolic blood pressure of 80 - may need to be changed.

In light of these findings, Dr. Taylor poses the question: if we do not see an increased risk of death among those who exceed the currently defined target levels for blood pressure, then can we really say that they have abnormal levels?

Dr. Taylor concludes by saying that his team's findings offer a new approach in the diagnosis of high blood pressure. This new approach would have an effect on millions of Americans, as diagnoses of high blood pressure would be given only to those who are actually at risk.

The study is published the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 9, 2011
Last Updated:
March 11, 2011