New evidence shows lower levels of blood pressure provide dramatic protection against heart disease

Hypertension is thought to be responsible for 50 million deaths per year nationwide. It’s a major risk factor for stroke, heart attacks, heart failure and peripheral vascular disease.

Many studies have shown that patients with systolic blood pressures (the top number) below 140 have a lower risk of heart disease and death than those above 140.

The cardiac game changer

Results of the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) represent a game-changer in the field of hypertension. The study, presented to the American Heart Association, shows that patients who maintained a blood pressure of 120 or less had a 25 percent lower risk of heart failure, heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular death than those whose blood pressure was maintained at 140.

They had a 43 percent lower risk of cardiovascular death and 27 percent lower risk of death from any cause than those whose target systolic blood pressure was 140.

It can be difficult to achieve

Lowering blood pressure can be difficult. In order to reach the 120 systolic level, some patients could need more than one medication.

In the SPRINT trial some patients who were able to reach 120 suffered adverse effects, such as fainting and kidney problems. But the trial has been called “one of the most important achievements of 2015.”

It’s not the whole answer.

Researchers at Duke Medicine say the 120 number is no magic bullet. It was chosen because it was significantly lower than 140.

What the trial did show was that bringing systolic blood pressure levels down below 140 can be beneficial in many ways as long as it’s done safely.

Note that no diabetic patients were included in the trial.