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Is it time to redefine high blood pressure?

Study: Changing standard for hypertension could save lives

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Results of a study by the National Institutes of Health show a change in the treatment of high blood pressure may save lives.

The condition is the leading cause of heart disease, stroke and kidney failure, especially for those over the age of 50.

High blood pressure affects about one in three people in the U.S. right now.

According to the American Heart Association, the recommendation for healthy blood pressure is 120 over 80 or lower. High blood pressure or hypertension is 140 over 90 or higher and can pose a serious health risk, especially if you're over 50.

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Understanding blood pressure readings

The National Institutes of Health conducted the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, or SPRINT. The study began in 2009 and included more than 9,000 participants age 50 and older. The participants were randomly divided into two groups.

One group received an average of two blood pressure medications to achieve a target of less than 140 mm Hg, which was the previously recommended goal.

The other group received an average of three medications to achieve a target of less than 120 mm Hg.

"The findings were surprising. I think they were even surprising to the folks that put this trial together," said Dr. William Haley, principal investigator for Mayo Clinic. "Compared to the usual goal blood pressure that's been traditional, that a goal blood pressure of 120 was found to be associated with much lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke and significant lowered risk of death."

The lowered goal blood pressure reduced the rates of heart attack and stroke by almost a third and lowered the risk of death by almost a quarter compared with the previously recommended treatment.

"For most people, they may end up taking an additional medication to get their blood pressure lower, if their doctor decides this is best for them," Haley said.

Haley said the patients in the study will continue to be monitored for another year and more data will be gathered. 

"It'll help redefine what's considered to be hypertension," Haley said. "What we anticipate is (that) new guidelines will be coming out to replace the ones that came out a year ago."

Health care providers said anyone being treated for high blood pressure should talk to their doctor to determine if the lower goal is best for them.