High blood pressure affects as many as one in three people in the United States.
Currently available antihypertensive medication can have serious side effects, but new research may have found a way to significantly reduce them.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition that affects approximately 80 million U.S. adults.
A blood pressure higher than 140/90 millimeters of mercury is considered to be hypertension.
Hypertension occurs when blood pushes against the walls of the arteries too forcefully.
High blood pressure means that blood moves too quickly, putting a patient at a higher risk for various serious conditions.
Untreated hypertension can lead to stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, heart failure, and peripheral arterial disease.
Although high blood pressure cannot be cured, it can be managed.
Maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active can help. There is also medication available for keeping blood pressure in check.
Commonly prescribed medications for hypertension include vasodilators (which help the blood vessels relax and facilitate the blood flow), diuretics (which prevent the body from accumulating too much salt and water), and beta-blockers (which can cause the heart to beat more slowly).
Most of these medications, however, can cause a range of adverse health effects, including dizziness, insomnia, headache, and weakness.
But new research, published in the journal Hypertension, examines whether or not there is a more efficient way of administering blood pressure medication to hypertensive patients so that side effects can be avoided.
Smaller doses may be more effective
The research consists of a meta-analysis of existing studies, with a focus on comparing quarter-dose therapies with the standard dose of medication as well as a placebo.
Researchers looked at 42 trials totalling 20,284 participants with hypertension who had either been taking medication in various doses, or who had not been taking any medication at all.
The drugs reviewed by these studies ranged across five main categories: beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, calcium channel blockers, and thiazides.
Taking two medications in combination, each at a quarter dose, was found to be just as effective as taking one medication in a standard dose.
More significantly, four quarter-dose medications taken in combination were found to be almost twice as effective as a single medication in standard dosage.
Additionally, the adverse effects from a double quarter-dose medicine and a single quarter of a dose were about the same as those from placebo medication.
There also were considerably fewer effects than those from a standard dose of a single kind of blood pressure-lowering medication.
Anthony Rodgers, Ph.D., study author and professor at the George Institute for Global Health at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said the findings are significant.
“Widespread control of blood pressure is generally low, even in high-income countries,” he said. “The largest global survey of hypertension patients showed 88 percent of those aware of hypertension are treated with medications, but only one in three were able to gain control of their blood pressure.”
“Because high blood pressure is so common and serious,” he added, “even small improvements in management can have a large impact on public health.”
However, the authors say that more research is needed to confirm the results.
They emphasize the fact that medical professionals do not yet have sufficient evidence to change how they prescribe antihypertensive medication.
“This new approach to treatment needs more research before it can be recommended more widely,” Rodgers says. “The findings have not yet been tested in large long-term trials. People should not reduce the doses of their current medications.”