30 million Americans who woke perfectly healthy yesterday morning are now suddenly in need of expensive hypertension treatments after the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology decided to lower the definition of “high blood pressure” to 130/80 from the previous trigger of 140/90. According to Reuters, the change means that nearly 50% of American adults, or roughly 100 million people, now suffer from high blood pressure.
Americans with blood pressure of 130/80 or higher should be treated, down from the previous trigger of 140/90, according to new guidelines announced on Monday by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology.
At the new cutoff, around 46 percent, or more than 103 million, of American adults are considered to have high blood pressure, compared with an estimated 72 million under the previous guidelines in place since 2003.
High blood pressure accounts for the second-largest number of preventable heart disease and stroke deaths in the United States, second only to smoking.
A large, government-sponsored study of hypertension patients aged 50 and older showed in 2015 that death from heart-related causes fell 43 percent and heart failure rates dropped 38 percent when their systolic blood pressure was lowered below 120 versus those taken to a target of under 140.
But patients in the 120 systolic blood pressure group had a higher rate of kidney injury or failure, as well as fainting.
Not surprisingly, these new guidelines are expected to be a boon for pharma giants like Merck, Pfizer and Novartis who supply the world’s expensive hypertension medications.
Potentially deadly high blood pressure can be brought under control with a wide array of medications, many sold as relatively inexpensive generics. The drug classes include angiotensin receptor blockers, such as Novartis AG’s Diovan, calcium channel blockers, like Pfizer Incs’s Norvasc, ACE inhibitors, including Pfizer’s Altace, and diuretics, such as Merck & Co Inc’s Hyzaar.
But the drugs have side effects and the new guidelines emphasize lifestyle changes including weight loss, diet and exercise as the first tool for combating hypertension.
“I think this will encourage both patients to adhere to recommendations but also clinicians to be more vigorous in their attempts to prescribe lifestyle changes,” said Dr. Pamela Morris, chair of the ACC’s committee on prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Of course, perhaps a slight, artificial “tweaking” of their addressable market was exactly the right cure for what’s been ailing Merck’s stock of late…