Treatment for high blood pressure that goes above and beyond what was previously recommended can significantly reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and even death, according to preliminary results from a US study.
The research, which applies to adults age 50 and older, showed that risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke was reduced by nearly a third, and death by almost a quarter, when patients were asked to bring down their systolic blood pressure below what is currently recommended.
Recommendations for systolic blood pressure - the greater of the two numbers that measure blood pressure - currently indicate that patients should aim for less than 140mm Hg.
The researchers, however, adjusted participants' blood pressure medication to achieve a target systolic pressure of 120mm Hg.
"This study provides potentially lifesaving information that will be useful to health care providers as they consider the best treatment options for some of their patients, particularly those over the age of 50," said Gary Gibbons, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the main sponsor of the clinical trial.
Initial results were so convincing that the NHLBI halted the study well before its 2017 end date, so it could publish the research.
"We are delighted to have achieved this important milestone in the study in advance of the expected closure date," Gibbons said on Friday.
High blood pressure - which affects an estimated one-in-three Americans - is the leading risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and a slew of other problems, the study said.
"Our results provide important evidence that treating blood pressure to a lower goal in older or high-risk patients can be beneficial and yield better health results overall," said Lawrence Fine, head of NHLBI's clinical applications and prevention branch.
The trial began in late 2009 with more than 9300 participants 50 years and older, recruited at hundreds of medical centres across the United States and Puerto Rico.
The study is the largest clinical trial to date to examine the effects of hypertension treatment targeting systolic blood pressure at a level below current recommendations.