High blood pressure is one of the leading risk factors for heart attack and stroke. That’s why it’s important to keep it under control.

But even if you’ve never had to worry about your blood pressure before, updated guidelines from the American College of Cardiology along with the American Heart Association may have you rethinking whether you should now take steps to lower your blood pressure.

The new guidelines, the first update in 14 years, have changed how blood pressure readings are classified. The revised guidelines mean more people will be diagnosed as having high blood pressure (hypertension) than ever before. These guidelines are designed to get people to manage their blood pressure earlier but don’t necessarily mean you’ll need to take medication if you didn’t before.

Before looking at the new guidelines, it’s helpful to know what the numbers mean. Blood pressure readings include a measure of systolic and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure (the top number) refers to the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. Diastolic pressure (the bottom number) refers to the pressure in your arteries when your heart is resting between beats.

What are the new blood pressure guidelines?

Normal blood pressure: Systolic pressure under 120 mm Hg and diastolic pressure under 80 mm Hg

Elevated blood pressure: Systolic pressure between 120 and 129 mm Hg and diastolic pressure under 80 mm Hg

Stage 1 hypertension: Systolic pressure between 130 and 139 mm Hg or diastolic pressure between 80 and 89 mm Hg

Stage 2 hypertension: Systolic pressure of 140 mm Hg or higher or diastolic pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher

How does that compare to the old blood pressure guidelines?

  • The range for normal blood pressure (120/80 mm Hg or lower) stays the same.
  • If blood pressure was over 120/80 mm Hg but below 140/90 mm Hg, you were considered to have prehypertension under the old guidelines. The prehypertension category has been eliminated and people with readings in this range will now either have elevated blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension.
  • Previously, a diagnosis of hypertension wasn’t made until blood pressure readings reached 140/90 mm Hg or higher. Blood pressure readings in that range will now be classified as stage 2 hypertension.

What do these new guidelines mean?

  • About 14% more people will be diagnosed with high blood pressure compared to before. Instead of 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. having high blood pressure, that number will now be closer to 1 in 2 adults.
  • It is suggested that treatment now begin when blood pressure readings are 130/80 mm Hg or higher rather than 140/90 mm Hg or higher.
  • The updated guidelines don’t mean a lot more people will automatically have to take medication to control high blood pressure. Rather, the new guidelines are designed to get adults to make healthy lifestyle choices to help manage their blood pressure before it causes complications, increases health risks or requires medication to keep it under control.