The Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT), a new National Institutes of Health study, showed that lower blood pressure standards than previously recommended may be better for older adults.
The study sampled two groups totalling 9,300 American adults over the age of 50 who have high blood pressure. The American Heart Association reports that the group whose blood pressure was lowered to 120—compared to the group lowered to 140—had their risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke reduced by 30%, and death from such causes cut by 25%. One in three Americans, approximately 80 million people, have high blood pressure, making these findings significant to much of our population.
According to Blood Pressure UK, when we have our blood pressure checked, we get two numbers: a higher number (systolic) and lower number (diastolic). The systolic number is blood pressure when the heart contracts or “beats,” and the diastolic number is the blood pressure between heartbeats. As reported by Scientific American and other media sources, the number discussed in this study, the systolic number, plays a much larger role in determining risk of heart disease and kidney failure.
Jackson T. Wright, M.D., Ph.D., an investigator of SPRINT, acknowledges that this finding is an important catalyst in the fight against high blood pressure, but cautions against immediate changes in treatment. A similar study including individuals from different age brackets remains to be conducted, as well as a deeper analysis of the extent to which doctors should change medical practices based on this study. So far, 80 million Americans have high blood pressure, but half of them have tried and failed to lower it to the normal level of 140. Lowering that standard to 120 will be a true challenge.
For now, physicians recommend that patients continue to see their own doctors for specialized treatment. NPR reports that SPRINT participants in the “standard” group took an average of two drugs to lower blood pressure to 140, and the “intensive” group took an average of three drugs to lower blood pressure to 120.
According to the New York Times, the amount of medication required to get to 120 can be dangerous, given the added side effects. Elderly people are even more susceptible; the adverse effects of a low blood pressure coupled with the potential side effects of other drugs treating chronic illnesses can be lethal. If one does not fall in the 50 and older age group, it is paramount to consult with a professional first in order to fully understand the regimen to lower blood pressure.
Ultimately, we should still approach these findings with caution, as they have not yet been closely analyzed for all the benefits and drawbacks. As further investigation develops, it is important also to remember to include a healthier lifestyle as part of the treatment. Proper diet and exercise go a long way in preventing or treating illness.
Regarding the medicines administered for high blood pressure, the Washington Post states that cost-efficient drugs, such as angiotensin receptor blockers, diuretics, and calcium channel blockers, are available. Of course, they all come with various side effects. As revelatory as this recent finding is, it raises more questions that remain to be answered.