A large study on blood pressure is ending a year early because it revealed that lower blood pressure levels could prevent heart attacks and strokes, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
The goal of the study, known as the Sprint study, was to determine what goal levels should be for people with high blood pressure. Currently, patients with high blood pressure are told that they should get their systolic pressure down to 140 millimeters of mercury, or 150 if they are over age 60. This study found that patients who were assigned to a group that kept their systolic blood pressure under 120 cut their risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure by a third and their risk of death by one fourth. (Systolic blood pressure is the higher of the two numbers that comprise a blood pressure reading and it is a measurement of the pressure on blood vessels during heart contractions.)
The Sprint study, which involved more than 9,300 men and women, was supposed to end in 2017, but the NHLBI considered the early results to be so strong and so important that it has ended it early.
"This study provides potentially lifesaving information," Dr. Gary H. Gibbons, director of the NHLBI, said in a statement about the decision.
Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attack, heart failure, and stroke, is the leading cause of death in the United States, but the death rates due to these diseases has been falling. A change in blood pressure goals could make these death rates fall even further. Nearly 70 million Americans have high blood pressure.
However, lowering blood pressure to 120 for people with high blood pressure will mean using larger doses of blood pressure medications. These medications carry risks and side effects.