A new study on blood pressure recently made headlines by suggesting current recommendations may need to be lower to truly cut the risk of heart problems. Thanks to the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, or SPRINT, some experts are now suggesting a revised version of blood pressure guidelines for patients with hypertension.
The study was originally slated to cover a research period of five years; however, the results were so conclusive that it was stopped after only three years. Though there is still some debate over how to interpret the SPRINT results since the study only covered a small sample size and focused on high-risk patients, here are a few things you should know about the findings and recommended new guidelines.
A high blood pressure reading is considered to be anything above 140 mmHg (systolic) over 90 mmHg (diastolic), while an “ideal” blood pressure reading is 120 mmHg over 80 mmHg. A long-standing debate in the medical community is whether people with hypertension should reduce their levels to below what is considered high, or if they should get their levels as close to ideal as possible.
The SPRINT study took 9,300 participants considered to have a high risk of heart attack and gave half the group the goal of getting their systolic pressure reading below 140 and the other half the goal of getting closer to 120. Within three years, 65 people in the 140 group died and 100 developed heart failure, while in the 120 group only 37 died and 62 developed heart failure. This suggests that a blood pressure that is closer to ideal is much more beneficial to the long-term health of the patient than a blood pressure that is simply no longer considered high.
However, despite ultimately having a better outcome, the 120 group struggled with side effects. To get their blood pressure so low, participants took an average of three different blood pressure medications and many experienced serious side effects—kidney failure and blood pressure that dropped dangerously low—as a result.
Depending on your risk factors for a heart attack, the side effects of a more aggressive blood pressure medication regimen may be worth the risk. But take note that all of the participants in the study were either over 75 or over 50 and suffering from at least one other chronic condition. Consumer Reports estimates that only one in six people with high blood pressure would belong to such a high-risk group.
Though the study focused on medication changes to lower blood pressure, experts say lifestyle changes are still one of the best ways to have an impact on your hypertension. Weight loss, a consistent exercise routine, quitting smoking and drinking less can all have positive effects on your high blood pressure and can reduce the need for additional medications.
Talk to your doctor about the best course of action for getting your high blood pressure under control and mention the SPRINT research if you’re curious about a more aggressive approach.