A landmark study on blood pressure management set to conclude in 2017 has shown such significant results that the National Institutes of Health is announcing its findings today, reported the New York Times.
The study found that reducing systolic blood pressure down to 120 mm Hg, as opposed to the traditionally recommended 140 mm Hg, resulted in dramatically reduced rates of heart attack, heart failure and stroke. Called the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, or SPRINT, the study involved more than 9,300 racially diverse participants aged 50 or over.
Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in the arteries during a heartbeat and is the larger of the two numbers typically used to measure overall blood pressure. The smaller number — diastolic blood pressure — measures pressure in the arteries between heartbeats. Treating high blood pressure requires more focus on systolic blood pressure because it has strong associations with health conditions like the hardening of the arteries, heart disease and vascular disease.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects one in three Americans and can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure; systolic hypertension is the most common type. In the past, clinical guidelines recommend that a systolic blood pressure of less than 140 mm Hg is a good target for healthy adults, while 130 mm Hg is recommended for those with kidney disease or diabetes.
To see if hitting a target of 120 mm Hg would be more beneficial, SPRINT researchers randomly divided the participants into two groups: a control group who took medication to achieve 140 mm Hg, and an intervention group who took medication to achieve 120 mm Hg.
Over the course of three years, the researchers found that rates of heart attack, heart failure and stroke for the 120 mm Hg group were down by almost a third of the numbers of the control group. Their risk of death was also reduced by almost one quarter.
“Our results provide important evidence that treating blood pressure to a lower goal in older or high-risk patients can be beneficial and yield better health results overall,” said Dr. Lawrence Fine, chief of the clinical applications and prevention branch at NHLBI, in a statement. “But patients should talk to their doctor to determine whether this lower goal is best for their individual care.”
On average, it took two medications for the control group to achieve 140 mm Hg, while it took an average of three medications for the intervention group to achieve 120 mm Hg. Non-medical ways to achieve lower blood pressure include weight loss, exercise, a healthy diet and a diet low in sodium.
“We are delighted to have achieved this important milestone in the study in advance of the expected closure date for the SPRINT trial,” said Dr. Gary H. Gibbons, director of NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, in a statement, “and look forward to quickly communicating the results to help inform patient care and the future development of evidence-based clinical guidelines.”
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