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AMERICAN MORNING

Pressure Points

Aired May 14, 2003 - 09:33   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: New guidelines for keeping blood pressure under control are going to be announced today. It's important information for people at risk for stroke, heart failure, heart disease and kidney disease.
Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is in the CNN Center and has the latest on that.

Hi, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Fredricka.

Fredricka, 50 million Americans have high blood pressure and about a third of them don't even know it. And high blood pressure, when it's not treated, can be very dangerous, can lead to a whole host of diseases. New guidelines for recognizing and treating hypertension.

For the first time, they have come out with a new category of what they're calling prehypertension, in other words, people whose blood pressure isn't so high it needs to be treated with drugs, but a category where doctors need to be worried. Let take a look at exactly what those numbers are. This report from the National Institutes of Health says if you have blood pressure which 120/80 to 129/99. In other words, if you're somewhere in that range, then you have what they call prehypertension. You don't necessarily -- you probably don't need medication. But what doctors are saying is that you need to have some sort of lifestyle change. Your doctor needs to talk about changing your diet, about exercising more, so hopefully you don't move into the high blood pressure range and you don't have to take drugs.

And for this reason, this NIH group says that food manufacturers should cut the amount of sodium in food products by one-half, because sodium is one of the reaps why people have high blood pressure. Let's take a look at some of the other findings of the report. The report also says for people over age 50, the top number, and that's the systolic number, is more important than the bottom number, and that's going to be news to some doctors who aren't aware of that. And also the report says that two or more drugs are better for most patients.

In other words, that most patients are going to need at least two drugs to treat their hypertension, and that one of those drugs for most people should be what's called the diuretic, and diuretics are old-fashioned, cheap pills. And because they are cheap, and no drug company really is pushing them, sometimes they get overlooked. Now this is report is not without controversy. There's sort of a counter report by another group of doctors, that says, you don't need two drugs in most patients, they say you need one. The issue is that you need the right one. People have hypertension for different reasons. So this other group of doctors says it's not that you need two, it's that you need the right drug. And of course that will continued to be debated. And doctors in the meantime, who are treating patients with hypertension will continue to try different drugs to see which one works best -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, Elizabeth, prehypertension almost, to me, sounds like you're going to have a lot more younger patients who are being diagnosed with this, which means a lot more younger folks are going to have to start getting checkups. Is that what it equates to?

COHEN: It could possibly mean, Fredricka, that because it could take into account people who people who are, let's say, in their 20s, 30s. Their blood pressure is starting to climb, but in the past, doctors may have sort of blown it off, and said, you'll be OK, you know, we'll just -- you'll be OK. And in this case, they may not say, you know what, you really need to watch it, you really need to watch your diet, and you need to watch your exercise. So it is very possible that younger people now will be talking to their doctors about blood pressure than in the past.

WHITFIELD: So people as early as their 20s or 30s?

COHEN: Absolutely. Already, I mean there are people in 20s and 30s who are already on blood pressure drugs. What this does is it creates more awareness among doctors and among patients saying, look, there's this category of people who in the past we have said their blood pressure is OK, you don't really need to worry about it. Now they're saying, you know what, you need to think about it. You don't need to put them on drugs, but you need to start thinking about whether or not you need to make lifestyle changes, so they won't have to be on drugs in the future.

WHITFIELD: All right, Elizabeth, thanks very much. Very good, important information to know.

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