Clinical trial suggests new blood pressure standard

Even before the data is in, NIH suggests a change

UNDER PRESSURE  Preliminary results from a new blood pressure study suggest that adults ages 50 and older might benefit from taking drugs to lower blood pressure to 120 millimeters of mercury or less.

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It’s time to rethink current blood pressure guidelines.

Using drugs to lower people’s systolic blood pressure, the pressure when the heart contracts, to less than 120 millimeters of mercury could cut heart attack, stroke and death rates. These are the preliminary results suggested by a clinical trial of more than 9,300 people ages 50 and older with high blood pressure.

Scientists at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Md., announced the results from the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, or SPRINT, on September 11. The study, the largest of its kind, began in 2009 and divided participants into two groups: People in one group received two drugs, on average, to lower blood pressure to 140 millimeters of mercury or below. People in the other group received an average of three drugs to lower blood pressure to 120 millimeters of mercury or below.

Compared with the higher blood pressure target group, participants in the lower blood pressure group reduced their rate of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke, by almost a third, and their risk of death during the study by almost a quarter. The study could offer “potentially lifesaving information,” NHLBI director Gary Gibbons said in a statement.

The National Institutes of Health stopped the blood pressure intervention early to release the results. But, despite the announcement, scientists have not yet released data from the trial, and open questions still remain. NHLBI scientists plan to publish results from the study within the next few months.

Prior to the SPRINT study, clinical guidelines suggested that healthy adults maintain a systolic blood pressure of less than 140 millimeters of mercury. 

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

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