New study has shown that aggressive treatment of high blood pressure can significantly reduce risks of heart disease and death in people over 50.
“This study provides potentially lifesaving information,” Dr. Gary H. Gibbons, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said in a statement announcing the decision.
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. It fluctuates throughout the day, but when it stays high for a long period of time it can damage your heart and cause serious health problems.
High blood pressure increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, chronic heart failure and kidney disease. Many people with high blood pressure take medication to achieve a safe blood pressure level.
Current standards recommend a systolic blood pressure, the top number in a blood pressure reading, of less than 140 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) for healthy adults and 130 mm Hg for adults with kidney disease or diabetes.
How low should we go?
Experts agree that reducing elevated blood pressure lowers heart disease risk, but the optimal blood pressure target has been up for debate.
“It hasn’t been clear whether there would be benefit – or harm – to lowering the blood pressure target for those with high blood pressure,” says George Thomas, MD, a hypertension specialist at Cleveland Clinic. “Until now.”
The Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, or SPRINT study, aimed to evaluate the benefits of maintaining a blood pressure level of 120 mm Hg versus the current target of 140 mm Hg.
To reach the more aggressive blood pressure target, researchers adjusted the amount or type of blood pressure medication for each participant. They studied more than 9,300 people age 50 and older who have high blood pressure and at least one additional risk factor for heart disease. They were divided in half: the standard group received medication to achieve a target of less than 140 mm Hg; the other to achieve less than 120 mm Hg.
“Researchers found that the lower blood pressure target may save lives and greatly reduce the risk of adverse cardiovascular events,” says Dr. Thomas.
The results were significant enough to stop the intervention portion of the study while other study results continue to be analyzed, including details on adverse side effects. The results do not apply to patients with diabetes or a history of stroke.
While the results are striking, Dr. Thomas says physicians and patients should have discussions and establish individual blood pressure goals in light of this new information.