AHA Issues New Advice on Managing Stage 1 Hypertension

Megan Brooks

April 29, 2021

Clinicians should consider the use of medication for adults with untreated stage 1 hypertension (130–139/80–89 mm Hg) whose 10-year risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is <10% and who fail to meet the blood pressure goal of <130/80 mm Hg after 6 months of guideline-based lifestyle therapy, the American Heart Association (AHA) advises in new scientific statement.

The statement was published online April 29 in Hypertension.

The recommendation complements the 2017 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Blood Pressure Management Guidelines, which do not fully address how to manage untreated stage 1 hypertension, the AHA says.

"There are no treatment recommendations in current guidelines for patients who are at relatively low short-term risk of heart disease when blood pressure does not drop below 130 mm Hg after six months of recommended lifestyle changes. This statement fills that gap," Daniel W. Jones, MD, chair of the statement writing group and a past president of the AHA, said in a news release.

If after 6 months with lifestyle changes, blood pressure does not improve, lifestyle therapy should be continued and "clinicians should consider adding medications to control blood pressure," said Jones, professor and dean emeritus, University of Mississippi School of Medicine, Jackson, Mississippi.

Healthy lifestyle changes to lower blood pressure include achieving ideal body weight, exercising (30 min of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days, if possible), limiting dietary sodium, enhancing potassium intake, and following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which is plentiful in fruits and vegetables with low-fat dairy products and reduced saturated fat and total fat. In addition, patients should be advised to limit alcohol intake and to not smoke.

The writing group acknowledges that these goals can be hard to achieve and maintain over time.

"It is very hard in America and most industrialized countries to limit sodium sufficiently to lower blood pressure, and it is difficult for all of us to maintain a healthy weight in what I refer to as a toxic food environment," Jones said.

"We want clinicians to advise patients to take healthy lifestyle changes seriously and do their best. We certainly prefer to achieve blood pressure goals without adding medication; however, successfully treating high blood pressure does extend both years and quality of life," said Jones.

The AHA statement also addresses cases in which adults were found to have hypertension during adolescence or childhood and were prescribed antihypertensive drug therapy.

In this patient population, clinicians should consider the original indications for starting antihypertensive drug treatment and the need to continue the medication and lifestyle therapy as young adults, the AHA advises.

"In young adults with stage 1 hypertension who are not controlled with lifestyle therapy, special consideration should be given to use of antihypertensive medication in individuals with a family history of premature CVD, a history of hypertension during pregnancy, or a personal history of premature birth," the AHA states.

The scientific statement was prepared by the volunteer writing group on behalf of the AHA Council on Hypertension; the Council on the Kidney in Cardiovascular Disease; the Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology; the Council on Cardiovascular Radiology and Intervention; the Council on Lifelong Congenital Heart Disease and Heart Health in the Young; and the Stroke Council.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Hypertension. Published online April 29, 2021. Full text

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