Scientists say lowering the top number on blood pressure readings from 140 to 120 could save millions of lives.
Think your blood pressure is low enough?
You might want to check again.
Researchers now say that lowering the top number of a person’s blood pressure ratio from 140 to 120 significantly reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes.
The recommendations were announced today at an American Heart Association meeting in Florida and published simultaneously in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The implementation of [the] recommendations could have a profound impact on how blood pressure is treated in this country,” said senior study author Paul Muntner, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama, in a press release. “Even more important, is its potential for greatly reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease.”
The researchers were a team assembled from the University of Utah, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Columbia University.
The scientists analyzed data from 16,260 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007 and 2012.
They focused on participants over the age of 50 with high blood pressure. Those participants also had one other risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or smoking.
The study subjects were followed for an average of 3.2 years.
The study was supposed to continue until 2017, but researchers abruptly halted it during the summer, saying they had already achieved some remarkable results.
Of the 9,361 participants with hypertension, researchers said there were 27 percent fewer deaths among the group with a blood pressure reading of 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) compared to the group with readings over 140 mm Hg.
There were also 38 percent fewer cases of heart failure among patients with a systolic pressure target of 120.
The researchers said almost 17 million people in the United States could be affected if the new recommendations are put into effect.
Most of those would be people with blood pressure readings between 120 and 140 who would be told they need to reduce their “top number” even more, in some cases with medication.
The researchers did note some “adverse events” in people from the group that were given intensive treatment to lower their blood pressure reading to 120.
Those side effects included hypotension, electrolyte abnormalities, and kidney problems. Almost 5 percent of the participants in the intense treatment group suffered from these adverse effects while 2.5 percent of the standard treatment group experienced these ailments.
Researchers said it’s uncertain what the recommendations would mean for people under the age of 50 or those over 50 with no cardiovascular risk factors other than high blood pressure.
However, they think lower blood pressure could save lives across the board.