Is Your High Blood Pressure Being Overtreated?

If you’re taking medications to control high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about what he or she considers “high,” especially if you are a snowbird whose eligibility for travel insurance may depend on the number and types of medications you take.

According to the report of a panel of experts convened by the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, people aged 60 years or older should be treated for high blood pressure only if and when their BP reading is at or above 150 (systolic)/90 (diastolic). (Systolic refers to the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats; diastolic measures the pressure between heartbeats.) The previous guidelines, published 10 years ago, set the treatment threshold for people over 60 at 140/90.

The new guidelines, published in the December 18, 2013, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), also recommend that adults age 30 to 59 with high blood pressure should aim for a target blood pressure under 140/90, as should adults with diabetes or chronic kidney disease. The previous target for adults with diabetes or chronic kidney disease was under 130/80.

Commenting on the new guidelines in the New York Times, Dr.  Harlan Krumholz, cardiologist and professor of medicine at Yale University, noted that “this (new) recommendation immediately puts many people who had drug treatment started because of mild elevations in systolic hypertension in an overtreatment category. Many people currently on drug treatment would not have been recommended for treatment under these new guidelines, including those who had high-normal values and were being treated for so-called pre-hypertension, a condition never officially sanctioned for treatment.”

The relaxation of blood pressure treatment thresholds could ultimately result in physicians prescribing fewer medications or lower dosages of pills. But treatment standards do not change overnight, and they aren’t usually altered by single studies.

Related: Travel Insurance for Pre-existing Conditions is Readily Available

Make no changes until you talk to your doctor. And remember: Any changes in health or medication can have an impact on your travel insurance. A change in medication could lead to a pre-existing medical condition being considered unstable (and therefore possibly not covered) under your travel insurance policy. Make sure to speak with a travel insurance professional regarding any changes in health and how such changes may alter your coverage.

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