SAN DIEGO – Despite the high prevalence of hypertension in the United States, confusion and gaps about how to diagnose and manage it remain, according to a presenter at the annual meeting of the American College of Physicians.
In a major shift in the definition of hypertension, guidelines published in 2017 reclassified 130/80 mm Hg as high blood pressure, or stage 1 hypertension. Previous guidelines classified 130/80 mm Hg as elevated, and 140/90 mm Hg used to be the threshold for stage 1 hypertension.
“This shift in classification criteria may cause confusion among clinicians caring for patients with hypertension and has a significant impact on how we diagnose and manage hypertension in our practice,” said Shawna D. Nesbitt, MD, professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and medical director at Parkland Hypertension Clinic in Dallas. Dr. Nesbitt is an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of hypertension, particularly complex and refractory cases.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for nearly one-quarter of all deaths in men and in women. Hypertension is a key factor contributing to CVD. The hypertension‐related CVD mortality is currently on the rise in many U.S. demographic groups, including younger individuals (35-64 years old), she said.
When asked about the potential causes of this trend, Dr. Nesbitt explained that the epidemics of obesity and overweight are critical contributors to the high prevalence of hypertension.
The new definition means a wider gap in the prevalence of hypertension between men and women, as well as between Black and White people in the United States. The U.S. rates of hypertension and hypertension‐related CVD mortality are much higher in Black than in White people in this country. Hypertension control rates are the lowest in Black, Hispanic, and Asian males, Dr. Nesbitt said.
Accurate measurement of blood pressure is crucial
The changes in classification criteria for hypertension have made accurate measurements of blood pressure important. A key challenge in the evaluation of hypertension in the clinic is the difference in the methods used to measure blood pressure between trials and real-world clinical practice.
“We can’t easily translate data collected in clinical trials into real-life scenarios, and this can have important implications in our expectations of treatment outcome,” Dr. Nesbitt cautioned.
Commenting on the best practices in blood pressure measurements in the office, Dr. Nesbitt said that patients need to be seated with their feet on the floor and their backs and arms supported. In addition, patients need to have at least 5 minutes of rest without talking.
“It is very important to help patients understand what triggers their blood pressure to be elevated and teach them how and when to measure their blood pressure at home using their own devices,” she added.
Another critical question is how to translate the new guidelines into changes in clinical care, she said.
Current treatment landscape of hypertension
Ensuring a healthy diet, weight, and sleep, participating in physical activity, avoiding nicotine, and managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels are the new “Life’s Essential 8” strategies proposed by the American Heart Association (AHA) to reduce CVD risk.
“Sleep has recently been added to the AHA guidelines because it modulates many factors contributing to hypertension,” Dr. Nesbitt pointed out. She advised that clinicians should ask patients about their sleep and educate them on healthy sleeping habits.
Some of the evidence used to develop the new AHA guidelines is derived from the SPRINT trial, which showed that controlling blood pressure reduces the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events. “This is our ultimate goal for our patients with hypertension,” Dr. Nesbitt noted.
Regarding the best practice in hypertension management, Dr. Nesbitt explained that with the new blood pressure thresholds, more patients will be diagnosed with stage 1 hypertension and need the nonpharmacological therapy suggested by the AHA. But patients with stage 1 hypertension and with a high CVD risk (at least 10%) also should receive blood pressure-lowering medications, so an accurate assessment of the risk of clinical atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) or the estimated 10-year CVD risk is crucial. “If we are not careful, we might miss some patients who need to be treated,” she said.
Calcium channel blockers, thiazide diuretics, and ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) are the treatment of choice for patients with newly diagnosed hypertension. Although extensively used in the past, beta-blockers are no longer a first-line treatment for hypertension.
When asked why beta-blockers are no longer suitable for routine initial treatment of hypertension, Dr. Nesbitt said that they are effective in controlling palpitations but “other antihypertensive drugs have proven far better in controlling blood pressure.”
Hypertension is multifactorial and often occurs in combination with other conditions, including diabetes and chronic kidney disease. When developing a treatment plan for patients with hypertension, comorbidities need to be considered, because their management may also help control blood pressure, especially for conditions that may contribute to the development of hypertension.
Common conditions that contribute to and often coexist with hypertension include sleep apnea, obesity, anxiety, and depression. However, convincing people to seek mental health support can be very challenging, Dr. Nesbitt said.
She added that hypertension is a complex disease with a strong social component. Understanding its pathophysiology and social determinants is paramount for successfully managing hypertension at the individual level, as well as at the community level.
Identification and management of side effects is key
Dr. Nesbitt also discussed the importance of the identification and management of side effects associated with blood pressure-lowering drugs. She cautioned that, if not managed, side effects can lead to treatment nonadherence and pseudo‐resistance, both of which can jeopardize the successful management of hypertension.
When asked about her approach to managing side effects and convincing patients to continue taking their medications, Dr. Nesbitt noted that “setting realistic expectations and goals is key.”
In an interview after Dr. Nesbitt’s presentation, Jesica Naanous, MD, agreed that having an honest conversation with the patients is the best way to convince them to keep taking their medications. She also explains to patients that the complications of uncontrolled blood pressure are worse than the side effects of the drugs.
“As a last resort, I change a blood pressure-lowering agent to another,” added Dr. Naanous, an internist at the American British Cowdray (ABC) Medical Center in Mexico City. She explained that many antihypertensive drugs have different toxicity profiles, and simply changing to another agent can make treatment more tolerable for the patient.
Dr. Nesbitt reported no relationships with entities whose primary business is producing, marketing, selling, reselling, or distributing health care products used by or on patients.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.
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