New blood pressure treatment guidelines in the U.S. have raised the threshold at which people over 60 are advised to start medication—meaning that fewer people should be prescribed antihypertensive (blood pressure lowering) drugs in the new year.
The previous guidelines on the management of high blood pressure, released in 2003, advised that people over 60 should start taking medication to lower their blood pressure if it exceeded 140/90. But the Eighth Joint National Committee, tasked with updating these recommendations based on the most recent evidence, determined that the threshold should be raised to 150/90.
There is no evidence that starting medication at the lower reading improves health outcomes, and the drugs themselves carry the risk of dangerous side effects. Instead, patients with moderately high blood pressure should be advised to make positive changes to their lifestyle to improve their health.
As the authors write in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “For all persons with hypertension, the potential benefits of a healthy diet, weight control and regular exercise cannot be overemphasized. These lifestyle treatments have the potential to improve [blood pressure] control and even reduce medication needs.” High blood pressure is a factor in many leading causes of death including heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
From What Doctors Don’t Tell You, via the Journal of the American Medical Association, 2013; December 18: doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.284427.