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New Blood Pressure Guidelines

Expert panel says treating some earlier with drugs shows little benefit, but other groups express concern
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 18, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Fewer people should take medicine to control their high blood pressure, a new set of guidelines recommends.

Adults aged 60 or older should only take blood pressure medication if their blood pressure exceeds 150/90, which sets a higher bar for treatment than the current guideline of 140/90, according to the report, published online Dec. 18 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The expert panel that crafted the guidelines also recommends that diabetes and kidney patients younger than 60 be treated at the same point as everyone else that age, when their blood pressure exceeds 140/90. Until now, people with those chronic conditions have been prescribed medication when their blood pressure reading topped 130/80.

Blood pressure is the force exerted on the inner walls of blood vessels as the heart pumps blood to all parts of the body. The upper reading, known as the systolic pressure, measures that force as the heart contracts and pushes blood out of its chambers. The lower reading, known as diastolic pressure, measures that force as the heart relaxes between contractions. Adult blood pressure is considered normal at 120/80.

The recommendations are based on clinical evidence showing that stricter guidelines provided no additional benefit to patients, explained guidelines author Dr. Paul James, head of the department of family medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

"We really couldn't see additional health benefits by driving blood pressure lower than 150 in people over 60 [years of age]," James explained. "It was very clear that 150 was the best number."

The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) did not review the new guidelines, but the AHA has expressed reservations about the panel's conclusions.

"We are concerned that relaxing the recommendations may expose more persons to the problem of inadequately controlled blood pressure," said AHA president-elect Dr. Elliott Antman, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

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