If you're at high risk for heart disease, lowering your blood pressure below the standard target level may help extend your life, a new study suggests.
Specifically, a systolic blood pressure target of less than 120 mm Hg -- rather than the standard 140 mm Hg -- could give someone an extra six months to three years of life, depending on their age when they begin intensive blood pressure control.
Systolic blood pressure is the top number in a blood pressure reading.
"Our hope is that these findings offer a more easily communicated message when discussing the potential benefits and risks of sustained blood pressure control over time," said lead study author Dr. Muthiah Vaduganathan, a cardiologist at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston.
"These statistics about life expectancy may be more tangible and personalized for patients, and more relatable when making these decisions," Vaduganathan added in a hospital news release.
A landmark trial published in 2015 showed that intensive blood pressure control could reduce overall death rates by 27 percent for adults with high heart disease risk, but patients might not fully understand how that affects them, the study authors noted.
So the researchers decided to reframe the findings to be more meaningful for patients.
The study team re-analyzed the data from more than 9,000 adults, aged 50 and older, who had high heart disease risk but did not have diabetes. The patients all had systolic blood pressure between 130 and 180 mm Hg (130 mm Hg or higher is considered high blood pressure).
The patients were divided into either intensive (120 mm Hg or lower) or standard (140 mm Hg or lower) systolic blood pressure target groups, and given free blood pressure drugs. They were followed for an average of just over three years.
According to the report, if all of the patients continued taking their blood pressure drugs for the rest of their lives, those with the intensive blood pressure target could live six months to three years longer than those with the standard blood pressure target.
This length of extra time among those with the intensive target depended upon their age when they started taking blood pressure medications. Someone who started at age 50 would gain 2.9 years; someone who started at age 65 would gain 1.1 years; and someone who started at 80 would gain nine months, the researchers explained.
The analysis did not account for potential risks associated with intensive blood pressure control, such as kidney injury and low blood pressure, the study authors noted.
The report was published online Feb. 26 in JAMA Cardiology.
The American Heart Association has more on high blood pressure.
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