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Redefining High Blood Pressure

 High blood pressure affects people around the world. But a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests it can be particularly harmful to Americans. Early Show Health Contributor Dr. Bernadine Healy reports.

It may sound like something you already knew, but the bottom line of this study is that high blood pressure is a risk for coronary disease and heart attack. This particular study was started in the late '50s, when we didn't know about risk factors. Blood pressure wasn't thought of as a major risk factor for heart attacks. It was for strokes but not heart attacks.

Most people who entered this study were middle-aged men. Fast-forward: 30 years later, we see high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attacks.

Any increment of 10 millimeters over ideal blood pressure (approximately 120/80) means a perceptible increase in your risk for heart attack and stroke. A single threshold for blood pressure is no longer the thinking in the medical community. For a long time, doctors have defined high blood pressure as 140/90 and higher. But the study adds to a growing body of evidence that people who fall below that mark can still benefit significantly by cutting their blood pressure further.

The study also suggests that blood pressure is affected by genes as well as lifestyle, that American men with high blood pressure are three times more likely to die of a heart attack than men with the same blood pressure from Japan or the Mediterranean coast of Europe.

Although genetics may explain some of the difference, environmental factors such as diet and exercise also play an important part. Dr. Healy says virtually anybody's blood pressure can be controlled with proper medical treatment, and it is a condition to be taken seriously whether you live in the U.S. or in Japan.
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