New Study Results ‘Striking’ for Controlling Your Blood Pressure

Striking results prompt NIH to halt investigation early
New Study Results 'Striking' for Controlling Your Blood Pressure

A recent study urges hypertension patients and their doctors to find ways to lower their blood pressure even further. Researchers say this is a key to reducing or preventing organ damage related to heart disease, kidney disease and strokes.

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Results from the study were so striking that investigators ended it early.

Sponsored by National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) examined the question: Should we change the current standard of targeting blood pressure control to less than 140 mm Hg (upper or systolic number) to less than 120 mm Hg?

“Previously, there was no clear evidence from large studies to answer the question of whether a more aggressive control would be beneficial or harmful,” says George Thomas, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Blood Pressure Disorders.

“We know that normal is less than 120, but when these patients are treated, we haven’t aimed for that more aggressive approach before.”

Study compares standard treatment to more aggressive therapy

Launched in 2009, SPRINT studied more than 9,300 people over the age of 50 with risk factors for heart disease. It also included patients with kidney disease. The multicenter study included more than 100 clinical sites in the United States.

Researchers divided patients with hypertension into two groups.

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The intensive group received more medications to get them to a systolic level of less than 120. Doctors adjusted medications for the standard group to keep them in the less-than-140 range.

Investigators could prescribe any standard blood pressure medications. Doctors encouraged patients in both groups to apply the standard lifestyle modifications for hypertension. Doctors asked them to follow a low-sodium diet, limit alcohol intake, get regular exercise and manage their weight. The study, however, was not analyzing these lifestyle variations.

Striking results merit early release

Study results were dramatic enough that the NIH stopped the intervention portion earlier than planned so it could announce findings.

The early results show that the intensively controlled group did significantly better.

Patients in that group showed a 30 percent reduced rate of heart attack, heart failure and stroke and a 25 percent reduced risk of death, compared to the group following the current standard of care.

The results released early were only preliminary, Dr. Thomas says. The full study will be published in November 2015.

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However, early results offered enough information to mark this as the first study that shows the benefits of a more aggressive approach to lowering high blood pressure beyond the current standard level, Dr. Thomas says.

The NIH decided to stop the trial because they found a significant benefit early on in the study. Based on a preliminary analysis, they found that the more intensive group benefits from a cardiovascular standpoint.

“So there were less cardiovascular events, and there was less mortality in the group that more aggressively controlled the systolic pressure and kept it less than 120,” Dr. Thomas says.

Dr. Thomas expects the final results of the study to reveal whether taking the more aggressive approach with medications carries risks for side effects such as dizziness, falls or kidney problems.

“It may be difficult for some people to get to that below 120 level because we may have to add more medications for that aggressive approach,” he says. “I’m advising my patients to discuss the final results of SPRINT with their physicians so that an informed decision can be made.”

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