Redefining Hypertension

Published Online: Friday, July 1, 2005

A new description of hypertension has been proposed by a writing group for the American Society of Hypertension (ASH). This definition would expand the current definition beyond high blood pressure to include overall cardiovascular (CV) risk and incorporate the concept that an elevated blood pressure reading may not be the cause of hypertension, but rather an effect of it.

The definition characterizes hypertension as a progressive CV syndrome with many causes that result in both structural and functional changes to the CV system. Therefore, early stages can begin before elevated blood pressure develops, and these stages can go on to damage the heart, brain, kidneys, and other organs, often resulting in morbidity and early death. As in the previous federal guidelines, the definition includes staging of hypertension, but now it calculates this not only on blood pressure measurements, but other indicators of CV risk, such as organ damage.

The writing group hopes that the new definition will improve the diagnosis and treatment of hypertension in the future, and they urge physicians and researchers to apply this new understanding of hypertension to help reduce the risk of CV damage to their patients.

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