Managing High Blood Pressure: What New Research Says

Blood Pressure Illustration

Having high blood pressure is quickly becoming more and more common in the United States. Science is still working hard to understand the causes but has learned some incredibly useful information. One particular study, SPRINT, has offered some tremendous insights into the risk factors for high blood pressure as well as many related symptoms.

Rising Epidemic

Are you being treated for high blood pressure? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. In fact, the American Heart Association says that over 100 million people in the U.S. have high blood pressure; that’s practically half of all adults. While that statistic might seem daunting, advancements in research and treatment have revealed exciting new discoveries about how aggressive high blood pressure management tactics can improve long-term health outcomes.

The Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention (SPRINT) Study

In over 90 clinics across the U.S., over 9,000 adults participated in the SPRINT study which began in 2010. To qualify, you had to be 50 or older and have a systolic blood pressure over 129 mmHg as well as one additional risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The question the trial was looking to answer was whether treating high blood pressure with a more aggressive target of less than 120 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) could have positive effects on three primary systems:

  • Cardiovascular – high blood pressure has long been slated as a leading risk factor for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. The SPRINT study is the first long-term study that looked at how treatment focused on how more aggressive hypertension targets in patients with no history of diabetes or stroke could improve heart health.
  • Kidneys – 28 percent of study participants had chronic kidney disease and were recruited to participate in the SPRINT study to see how treating to the lower blood pressure target affected their kidney and cardiovascular health.
  • Brain – an additional portion of the SPRINT study focused on cognitive health, aptly referred to as SPRINT-MIND (Memory and Cognition in Decreased Hypertension). Researchers looked at how the lower systolic blood pressure target could slow the decline in cognitive function, limit small vessel disease in the brain, and ultimately reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Hypertension Blood Pressure Ranges OrganicNewsroomWhat Did the SPRINT Study Find?

While results are still pouring out from this immense and prolific study, reports have already highlighted incredibly beneficial takeaways. Targeting lower blood pressure readings as part of a hypertension treatment plan was able to reduce cardiovascular events by 25 percent and lower the risk of death by almost 30 percent. The reduced systolic target additionally decreased cardiovascular events among participants with chronic kidney disease.

Initial Findings

Early findings have also illumined key cognitive benefits that this type of hypertension treatment might yield. Researchers from the SPRINT study presented what they discovered at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in July 2018 sharing that participants of the control group where blood pressure targets were aimed at a maximum of 120 mmHg were 15 percent less likely to develop any form of mild cognitive impairment or dementia.

New Guidelines

The SPRINT study also ultimately influenced clinical guidelines which were updated by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association in November 2017. The new guidelines narrowed the threshold for what was considered healthy blood pressure and high blood pressure.

Previously, a systolic reading between 121 mmHg and 140 mmHg was considered a “pre-hypertension” phase, however, now, there is no pre-hypertension categorization and instead, they lay out readings over 120 mmHg (systolic) as being elevated, stage 1, stage 2, and indicating a hypertensive crisis. The exact guidelines read as follows:

  • Normal: Readings below 120/80 mmHg
  • Elevated: Between 120 and 129 mmHg (systolic) and less than 80 (diastolic)
  • Stage 1: Between 130 and 139 mmHg (systolic) or between 80 and 89 (diastolic)
  • Stage 2: At least 140 mmHg (systolic) or at least 90 (diastolic)
  • Hypertensive crisis: 180 mmHg (systolic) and/or 120 or more (diastolic)

In the event of a suspected hypertensive crisis, the new clinical guidelines recommend seeking medical attention right away to either have medication adjusted or in the event of evident organ damage, to be hospitalized. The goal of the guidelines is to encourage clinicians, from general practitioners to cardiologists themselves, to target more aggressive blood pressure goals for their at-risk patients and encourage earlier intervention.

Blood Pressure Monitoring

Blood pressure monitoring at home can play a key role in empowering patients to track their own health and work towards improving it. Research also shows that self-monitoring in conjunction with treatment (including medication regimens, lifestyle counseling, and education) can contribute to a clinically significant reduction in blood pressure. Easy-to-use digital blood pressure monitors can be found in pharmacies, online, and in most big box stores; they typically record historical data regarding blood pressure measurements and will oftentimes alert a user to abnormal readings.

Final Thoughts

The SPRINT study helped us redefine the ranges of blood pressure by providing better insight into when and how serious related health issues may arise. After all, high blood pressure wouldn’t likely be of concern if nothing else were to ever go wrong! It’s important to always have some idea of your average blood pressure measurements. Going to the doctor once a week isn’t practical and home blood pressure monitoring systems can help one better stay on top of such things. High blood pressure is a very real issue in the United States. Doing everything in one’s power to avoid and manage its progression may have a great positive influence on one’s health and longevity.

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