You went to the doctor last month, and your blood pressure got the all-clear. But you actually might have reason to worry: That’s because new guidelines just issued by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have lowered the threshold for what doctors consider high blood pressure.
These new guidelines, which are updated from the 2003 recommendations, have looped in research from new studies regarding heart risks of high blood pressure, accurate blood pressure monitoring, blood pressure thresholds for beginning treatment, and blood pressure goals for treatment.
The consensus? The benchmark for what’s considered high blood pressure should be changed, the researchers believe.
Previously, high blood pressure was defined as a systolic reading—the top number—of 140 milligrams of mercury (mm Hg) or higher, with a diastolic, or the bottom number, of 90 mm Hg or higher. But the new guidelines recommend that high blood pressure should be considered anything 130/80 or higher. That means a whole lot more young guys will be considered hypertensive—nearly triple the number, in fact.
Under previous guidelines, 11 per cent of men 20 to 44 met the criteria for high blood pressure. Now, 30 per cent will hit that benchmark, meaning nearly 1 in 3 young guys will have high blood pressure.
The new guidelines didn’t change what’s considered normal BP, though. A reading 120/80 mm Hg is still considered normal blood pressure, while anything between that and 129/80 is considered “elevated.” That means it doesn't quite meet the criteria for hypertension.
High blood pressure is a big problem, because your heart has to work much harder to pump all that blood more forcefully. Besides that strain to your ticker, this can also damage your blood vessels, allowing for a greater plaque buildup in your arteries. And that, of course, can put you at risk of a heart attack.
And heart attack and stroke aren’t the only possible results of high BP: Hypertension is also associated with things like kidney dysfunction, nerve damage, vision problems, and even sexual dysfunction, says Annabelle Volgman, M.D., a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Rush Medical College
So what do these new blood pressure guidelines mean for you? Well, even if you’re now considered hypertensive, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start taking drugs to control it.
“The new guidelines mean more awareness and more preventive action on high blood pressure, not necessarily more medication,” she says.
That means you may be able to try lifestyle modifications first to lower your high blood pressure if you are hypertensive. These include things like eating a lower-sodium diet, exercising regularly, managing stress, and quitting smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, she says.
But these new guidelines are moot if you don’t know your blood pressure reading in the first place. So get to your doctor to find out—even if your blood pressure was normal last time you checked, you should still get a reading yearly, according to the American Heart Association.
You may also want to consider an at-home blood pressure monitor, Dr. Volgman says. This can help you monitor your blood pressure readings between doctor visits, as well as provide information to your doctor on any kind of trends or changes in your readings.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health US.