Q: Help! I just saw on television that half of Americans now have heart disease. How did it happen? How do I know if I'm part of the 50%?
A: You are referring to a new report from the American Heart Association, published earlier this year. The statistical update concluded that at least 48% of American adults have cardiovascular disease. People under 18 are not included in the report, which makes it not half of Americans. The update, published at the beginning of each new year, is produced in collaboration with a number of government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health.
To understand why this number is suddenly so high, we must go back to 2017. That's when the common guidelines on hypertension of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have been updated. At that time, the definition of high blood pressure had gone from 140/90 mm Hg to 130/80 mm Hg. In one fell swoop, millions of Americans who thought to have normal blood pressure the day before are suddenly in the category of hypertensives.
Some of you may remember that this change in the definition of hypertension has proved controversial. The lower reference was based on a medical trial in which the method of measuring blood pressure was very different from the one you usually experience in a medical setting. Participants were allowed to sit quietly for several minutes before using an automated device to measure their blood pressure. The final reading was derived from the average of three separate maximum measurements. All this has led to a vigorous debate within the medical community.
The definition of cardiovascular disease itself is another factor taken into account in new estimates of heart disease. This includes heart failure, stroke, coronary heart disease and, yes, high blood pressure. This means that anyone with a blood pressure of 130/80 mmHg or higher now meets the definition of heart disease. But when you exclude hypertension and you focus solely on the other three conditions, the prevalence of cardiovascular disease in American adults drops to 9% overall.
Nevertheless, high blood pressure is dangerous. This is not only the most common risk factor for stroke and heart disease, but it also plays a role in several other serious health problems. The challenge is that high blood pressure is a silent condition. You can not feel it. But inside the body, all kinds of bad things happen. Over time, uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage and weaken the arteries, heart and blood vessels of the brain. The blood vessels in the eyes and kidneys are also at risk. Research continues to show a connection between high blood pressure and certain types of cognitive impairment and dementia. That's why, through lifestyle changes, medications or both, controlling blood pressure is important for your health.
Regarding the state of your heart health, the best way is to consult your primary care physician. Through a physical examination and some tests, including a blood pressure reading and a lipid profile, you will learn where you are.
Email your questions to [email protected], or ask the physicians, c / o Media Relations, UCLA Health, 924 Westwood Blvd., Suite 350, Los Angeles, CA 90095.