Every now and then even blind squirrels find acorns. The medical care industry, which long ago abandoned sensible fiscal and therapeutic restraint in the quest for new patients, finally treats us to a revised hypertension guideline that thoughtful people can conclude makes a great deal of sense. It is even based on evidence, or actually the lack of it, which is itself a startling admission of reality from an industry that dances around truth with a nimble sophistry envied by even the most mendacious politicians.
The hypertension guidelines are a sharp departure from last month’s cholesterol guidelines, produced by a supposedly equally august panel of “thought leaders” who gave us guidelines that seemed to channel the The Talking Heads quite literally. John P. Ioannidis, along with Nortin Hadler, easily one of the two or three most important physician thinkers of this or any generation, wrote that the cholesterol guideline will be either…”one of the greatest achievements or one of the worst disasters of medical history.”
- we treat too many people today;
- we rely too much on drugs for things that drugs cannot fix;
- treatment frequently does not produce health because therapy aims at a point, while the pursuit of health is a matrix; and
- if we are really going to improve cardiovascular health, which is strongly implicated not just in stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease, but also cognitive health, people are going to have to change behaviors because there aren’t enough pills on the planet to fix what ails us.
Cognitive health is an especially useful guidepost, because contrary to popular myth, it isn’t something that mysteriously disappears in nonagenarians. The seemingly age-related decline is more likely the manifestation of damage done by a lifetime of incremental harms. Isn’t it edifying to have scientists catch up to our moms?
The new guidelines leave us a redefinition of high blood pressure: greater than 150/90, except in cases where a comorbidity compels pursuit of 140/90 or lower to prevent end-organ damage. This has implications not just for medical care but for workplace wellness, which obsesses with hypertension when it is not obsessing with cholesterol and glucose.
The hypertension guidelines yank away from workplace wellness vendors yet another reason to fine or otherwise antagonize employees who don’t show up at health fairs. The progression of hypertension is strongly related to aging, and healthy aging is the most reliable bulwark against premature stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, or dementia. Unless workplace wellness vendors plan to follow people into retirement, which is when the overwhelming majority of heart attack, stroke, and dementia occurs, there is no logical reason to ask any employee what his or her blood pressure or deign to tell them how to address it.