Aggressively Lowering Blood Pressure Saves Lives, Study Finds : Shots - Health News A huge federal study was halted early when a preliminary analysis of the results found clear evidence that lowering blood pressure can slash heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and deaths.
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Aggressively Lowering Blood Pressure Saves Lives, Study Finds

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Aggressively Lowering Blood Pressure Saves Lives, Study Finds

Aggressively Lowering Blood Pressure Saves Lives, Study Finds

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The National Institutes of Health has halted a major study about blood pressure because it has produced some startling results. The study found that lowering blood pressure even more than currently recommended could have huge benefits for many people. NPR health correspondent, Rob Stein reports.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: When someone gets their blood pressure measured, they get two numbers like 110 over 70 or 140 over 90. Both numbers are important, but that first number - systolic blood pressure - has long been considered the really important one. And Gary Gibbons of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute says doctors mostly try to keep it below 140 for people in their fifties.

GARY GIBBONS: This is the commonly recommended target of systolic blood pressure of 140.

STEIN: But there's been a big debate about whether getting it even lower would be even better. So researchers began following more than 9,000 people age 50 and older with high blood pressure. Half of their doctors tried to lower that top number to the current target, 140. Half shot for much lower - 120.

GIBBONS: On average, it took two types of medication to control the blood pressure in the standard group to 140, whereas the more intensive group averaged about three medications.

STEIN: And when the researchers took what was supposed to be just an early look at what was happening to make sure nothing was going wrong, the impact of hitting that lower target was surprisingly clear.

GIBBONS: It significantly reduced the rates of heart attacks, heart failure and stroke by 30 percent and lowered the risk of death by 25 percent - pretty substantial. There are not a lot of things in medicine where that occurs.

STEIN: The results were so dramatic, Gibbons says, that officials decided to stop the study early and announce the results this morning.

GIBBONS: This is a major finding, and we think it'll be a landmark study.

STEIN: Other experts agree.

MARK CREAGER: This is a very big deal.

STEIN: Mark Creager is the president of the American Heart Association. He points out that high blood pressure is one of the most common health problems in America. One out of every 3 adults has high blood pressure.

CREAGER: I believe this study will serve as a roadmap towards saving a significant amount of lives.

STEIN: Creager predicted the study would lead his and other major medical groups to revise their guidelines to recommend doctors start shooting for 120 and not only by hiking the dose on the blood pressure drugs they're giving their patients or prescribing more drugs.

CREAGER: In addition to all of that, we have to be mindful of the many other things that are useful in lowering blood pressure, and that includes a healthy diet, particularly one that's low in salt.

STEIN: And some experts predicted many doctors wouldn't wait for official new guidelines to be issued before trying to hit this new target. Mary Norine Walsh is the vice president of the American College of Cardiology.

MARY NORINE WALSH: Seeing a patient, even tomorrow morning, armed with this data - if a patient in front of us is over the age of 50 with cardiovascular risk, using that new target of 120 seems reasonable.

STEIN: But many experts say it won't be easy to hit that new target. Many people who have high blood pressure don't even know it, and about half of those who do haven't been able to get it down to 140 no matter how hard they try. Rob Stein, NPR News.

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