Are You Aiming for the Wrong Blood Pressure Reading?

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There is good news and bad news in the preliminary results of a landmark study of blood pressure management.

The good news is that using medication to lower a certain type of blood pressure below a specific threshold can reduce rates of heart attacks, heart failure and stroke.

The bad news is that the threshold is lower than the number medical professionals traditionally have recommended.

Dr. Gary H. Gibbons, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, says in a news release:

“This study provides potentially lifesaving information that will be useful to health care providers as they consider the best treatment options for some of their patients, particularly those over the age of 50.”

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a leading risk factor for serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. An estimated 1 in 3 people in the U.S. has high blood pressure.

The ongoing study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is called the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT). It involves more than 9,300 participants who are at least 50 years old, making it the largest study of how maintaining a systolic blood pressure below the recommended level would affect heart and kidney diseases.

Systolic blood pressure is the top number in a blood pressure reading. The medical community has traditionally recommended that that number be 140 for healthy adults and 130 for adults with kidney disease or diabetes.

But initial findings of the study — which the NIH paused so it could release “the significant preliminary results” — show that maintaining a target systolic blood pressure of 120 can “significantly” lower rates of heart disease and death in older adults who have high blood pressure.

Dr. Lawrence Fine, chief of the Clinical Applications and Prevention Branch at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, says in the news release:

“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.”

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