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HeartSmart: blood pressure guidelines

High blood pressure is often called a silent killer because it typically does not produce signs or symptoms to warn you that you have a problem. Over time, excessive force on your artery walls can seriously damage many of your body's vital organs, such as your heart, brain, and kidneys. The higher your blood pressure and the longer it goes uncontrolled, the greater the damage can be.

Recent changes in blood pressure guidelines recommend that if you smoke, have high blood sugar, abnormal kidney function, or a parent who had a heart attack in his or her 50s, aiming for a blood pressure reading of 130/85 mm Hg may reduce your risk of death or disability. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg.

Lowering your blood pressure, regardless of your age or even if your readings are already in the normal range, has benefits. A recent review suggests that during middle age, every 20-point drop in systolic pressure (the top number) and every 10-point drop in diastolic pressure (the bottom number) reduces the risk of deadly strokes, coronary artery disease and other vascular problems by more than 50 percent. (The Lancet, 12/14/02)

To see the most recent blood pressure guidelines go to: or