Federal health authorities announced on Friday that a study designed to change the current guidelines on blood pressure levels is coming to an end earlier than expected.
The study, initially expected to end in 2017, has already answered the question that kept cardiologists on their toes for years:
What are the optimal levels of blood pressure?
In short, the study found sufficient and conclusive data to suggest blood pressure levels should be kept significantly lower than the current federal guidelines indicate.
The data will be discussed at large on Monday and the findings of the study will also be published soon. Particularly for elder patients for whom it was believed that a higher blood pressure could help pump the blood to the brain and heart, thus avoiding an array of medical complications, this is vital data.
“This can have a very large effect on thousands of people. One in three people in the United States have hypertension, and the majority of those people are over the age of 50”,
stated Mary Norine Walsh, MD and cardiologist, VP of the American College of Cardiology.
The study was conducted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and is titled Sprint. Conducted on 9,300 patients aged 50 and above and who presented high risk of heart disease, the study assigned two targets concerning blood pressure: 120 or under 140.
The federal guidelines in place at the moment stipulate that blood pressure should be in between 140 and 150 for patients aged 60 and above. The study contradicted this idea, indicating that a blood pressure target below the 120 level benefited even the group of patients presenting the highest risks. Overall, the risk of heart failure or heart attacks and strokes reduced by over a third. The risk of dying due to any of these complications reduced by approximately one quarter.
According to the doctors involved in the study, this is indeed a landmark research. Being a randomized trial that supported all the evidence needed to change the current status-quo brings it even more weight.
Yet, according to MD George Thomas, who is the director of the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders with the Cleveland Clinic, there are still areas that need further analysis. The overall results cannot be challenged. The benefits of keeping blood pressure at lower levels than it is currently recommended, even when it comes to patients suffering from hypertension are clearcut.
Nonetheless, the doctors believe that while the study will change both the current federal guidelines regarding blood pressure and the way patients are managed, a deeper insight into the costs of keeping blood pressure this low for all patients is needed.
Could it be detrimental that drugs are used on the long-term to lower blood pressure? Is it possible that not all patients are fit for lower targets and that these could push more dizziness, falls and other complications? These are questions that need to be answered.
79 million U.S. adults present high blood pressure. Approximately half of them who are undergoing treatment are recommended to keep systolic blood pressure at 140. For them, the new study could shake things up for the better.
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