Prior to last weekend, if your blood pressure was no more than 140/90, you were considered to be okay. However, 15.6 million people across the U.S. woke up Monday morning to discover they suddenly had hypertension when they had no problem with it before.

This was the result of a review of studies over the past few years recommending that the numbers defining high blood pressure be revised downward, including one from the National Institutes of Health. The analysis, published online on November 13th, was conducted by five doctors in order to determine how many people would be affected by such a change. The researchers determined that almost two-thirds (63 percent) of people between the ages of 45 and 75 would now be considered to have high blood pressure.

According to one of the study’s authors, new guidelines would mean that an additional 8 million people would be advised to start hypertension medications – and 14 million more would be recommended for an increase in their current therapy. While this would appear to be a potential bonanza for drug companies, Dr. Harlan M. Krumholz (who, according to disclosures, has received research agreements from Medtronic and Janssen Pharmaceuticals) noted in a piece for National Public Radio that “there are many effective strategies to reduce blood pressure that don’t involve drugs [i.e., diet and lifestyle changes], but they are too infrequently pursued.” He also points out that “there are many choices for blood pressure medications, and they are inexpensive; most are generics.”

However, Krumholz writes, “The days are pretty much over when doctors could walk into the office and tell people what to do, write a prescription and expect them to comply…some people don’t like to take pills or don’t tolerate them well.” Considering the behavior of Big Pharma in recent years and the appallingly high number of medications that have been demonstrated to be dangerous, patients’ resistance to taking prescription drugs is understandable.

It should be noted that the new report is an “unrefereed preprint,” meaning that it has yet to be peer-reviewed – and thus has not yet gained acceptance in the medical community, and may even have errors. It is also interesting that one of the authors received almost $6900 in payments in 2015 from Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, two drug companies who recently developed a high cholesterol drug known as Praulent (aliroumab). $5600 of that was a single payment, listed as “honorarium,” or payment for services rendered that are normally provided free of charge.

None of this necessarily means that the new standards are in error or are part of a strategy by Big Pharma to increase sales. Dr. Krumholz, a cardiologist, notes that every patient is unique, and that it is time to “move away from suggesting that one type of medical advice should fit all.” He suggests that in light of the new information, his colleagues in the medical profession should “start thinking of it as less of a clinical condition and more as an opportunity for many people to work on ways to promote better health.”  

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.