You probably already heard about the recently released blood pressure guidelines. The changes are fairly significant, nudging us all to lower our blood pressures even more and to also have our blood pressures checked more often. Needless to say the implications are still being discussed, including within the medical community. However, while a diagnosis of hypertension now uses much lower numbers (see the guideline summary below), the recommendations for maintaining a healthy blood pressure are the same —

  • Follow the DASH plan – nutrition based on vegetables, fruit, low fat dairy, whole grains, and lean protein sources.
  • Be Physically Active – moderate exercise such as walking a minimum of 30 minutes on most days
  • Do Not Smoke
  • Sleep at least 7 hours/day
  • Practice Stress Management, Relaxation & Coping Techniques

In addition to lower numbers, the new guidelines are to have your blood pressure checked at least annually and more often depending on risks. This is more frequent than previous screening recommendations.

Worksites can play a key role in providing convenient screening and follow-up. The value of offering this simple screening is not only beneficial, but also can be lifesaving. We almost always find at least one employee with unknown hypertension or another significant health issue, either through occupational health nursing services or when conducting respirator medical clearance assessments. We know that some companies are mailing respirator questionnaires for review by an outside provider in order to save a few dollars while still complying with the OSHA respiratory protection requirements. Much can be missed when just reviewing a questionnaire without hands-on – and eyes-on – the person. Here’s a great example:

We recently completed several respirator medical clearance exam sessions. As often is the case, we found employees with high blood pressure during each one. However, during one of these sessions we found a knowledgeable young person in hypertension crisis – they had an extremely high blood pressure. The person had his/her physical this past summer and their blood pressure was found normal as always. After waiting several minutes and multiple rechecks, the employee called their doctor who immediately saw the individual.

The person is now being treated for a serious condition that caused the drastic blood pressure change. Would all have been okay until their next physical if they hadn’t come in this day or their questionnaire had instead been sent off for review without a personal discussion or hands-on check? Maybe. However, the risk was quite high to have such an extremely high blood pressure, and the potential danger that could have resulted was a real possibility.

This is not an isolated case. Besides undiagnosed high blood pressure, we have found non-compliance with medical treatment for hypertension, lung issues, heart arrhythmias, and cardiovascular problems. All required lifesaving interventions.

It is worth scheduling periodic blood pressure screenings including follow-up, and if you have a respiratory protection program, to consider including the hands-on review and blood pressure screening. The potential benefits are worth any small cost increase.

New Blood Pressure Guideline Summary




Systolic (mm Hg)


Diastolic (mm Hg)

Normal <120 AND < 80
Elevated 120-129 AND < 80

High Blood Pressure

   Stage 1 (hypertension) 130-139 OR    80-89
   Stage 2 (hypertension) >140 OR > 90
Hypertension Crisis > 180 OR > 120