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Time to Redefine 'Normal' Blood Pressure, Researchers Say

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 11, 2011

As many as 100 million Americans may be misclassified as having abnormal blood pressure, and it may time to reassess what constitutes "normal" blood pressure, the authors of a new study assert.

The study published in the current edition of the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that those people are not actually more likely to die prematurely than those with "normal" blood pressure, which is now considered below 120/80.

Lead researcher Brent Taylor, MD, from the Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota, and his colleagues, found that for people younger than 50, diastolic blood pressure is the more important predictor of mortality. For people over 50, systolic blood pressure is the stronger predictor.

"Our findings highlight that the choice of approach used to define normal blood pressure will impact literally millions of Americans," Taylor said. "If we cannot reliably see an effect on mortality in a large group of individuals followed for nearly 20 years, should we define the condition as abnormal? We believe considering this kind of approach represents a critical step in ensuring that diagnoses are given only to those with a meaningful elevation in risk, and targeted towards individuals most likely to benefit."

The study examined the independent contribution of diastolic blood pressure and systolic blood pressure on mortality, as well as how these relationships might affect the number of Americans currently labeled as having abnormal blood pressure.

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