The early results showed reducing blood pressure below the currently recommended target can significantly reduce the rate of heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and deaths, according to federal health officials.
The findings are the result from the largest study ever conducted to examine if reducing systolic blood pressure — the top number— below the currently recommended goal would be beneficial to patients.
The study was halted when an analysis indicated the benefits were clear, officials said. “This is a landmark study,” says Dr. Gary Gibbons, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which sponsored the study. “The researchers think that this study will clearly have an impact on patient care for those with hypertension.”
“This is a very big deal,” says Dr. Mark Creager, president of the American Heart Association and director of the Heart Vascular Center at the Dartmouth Hitc significant number of lives.”
About one-third of U.S. adults have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for a variety of health problems, including heart attacks, strokes and heart failure. Most blood
pressure charts recommend that high blood pressure patients reduce their systolic blood pressure. Cardiologists consider this to be the more important of the two readings from a blood pressure measurement, to a maximum of 140.
The study set out to determine whether lower systolic blood pressure might be even better. Researchers recruited more than 9,300 adults with high blood pressure and at least one other risk factor for heart disease, i.e. being a smoker or having high cholesterol. The subjects were slip in half, half of the doctors attempted to get the systolic pressure down to 140 in some patients. The other half attempted to reduce the systolic pressure to 120.
The study was supposed to continue until well into 2016, but it was stopped recently when a panel monitoring the results found in a preliminary analysis that it had already produced significant results. “ It was concluded reducing systolic blood pressure to 120 or lower reduced heart attacks, strokes and heart failure by almost a third and the risk of death by almost a quarter”, Gibbons says.
Details about the findings haven’t yet been published in a scientific journal, but researchers say “It will”.
“If a patient in our office fits the criteria of this trial it certainly doesn’t seem too early to begin to lower our target to 120,” says Dr. Mary Norine Walsh, medical director, heart failure and cardiac transplantation at the St. Vincent Heart Center of Indiana, vice president of the American College of Cardiology.
The study acknowledged it may be difficult for patients to hit the lower target. About half of those who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure fail to reach the current target of 140.
“We have a long way to go in improving public awareness about high blood pressure, making sure it’s detected and appropriately treated,” Creager says. “But studies such as this really reinforce that we need to take important steps to raise public awareness to make sure that patients are having conversations with health care providers about how it can be effectively managed.”