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New target for blood pressure: 120/80 to reduce strokes, heart attacks


By Joan Cohen


f you are a Canadian, age 60 to 79, the chances are high that you suffer from high blood pres- sure; it’s estimated some 53 per cent of Canadi- ans in that age range do, along with 18 per cent of Canadians between 40 and 59. So it should have been cheering news for large num-


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bers of Canadians with this ailment, when the United States’ National Institute of Health in September an- nounced early medical findings that could help older adults fend off heart disease and possible death from a stroke or heart attack. According to the early results of a landmark, NIH- sponsored clinical trial, medical practitioners succeed- ed in significantly reducing the incidence of disease and death among those patients with a secondary heart or kidney disorder. They did this by manipulat- ing medication dosages to achieve very precise blood pressure readings that were substantially lower than the levels commonly targetted in treatment today. With his, according to the Institute announce-


ment, the occurrence of heart attacks, heart failure and stroke by almost a third and the risk of death by almost a quarter, compared to the rate of these occur- rences today. In medical terminology, the method in their trial brought systolic pressure to a precise 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg), down from today’s common target reading of 140 mm Hg. Blood pressure is described as the amount of force


that blood exerts on the walls of arteries as it moves through a person’s circulatory system. Blood is driven through these arteries in waves, propelled by the heart which forces the blood through by contracting, caus- ing blood pressure to rise. This is known as the sys- tolic period. A moment of relaxation, called diastole, follows when the heart again fills up with blood and blood pressure drops. Heart readings – for example the currently targetted 140/90 mm Hg – shows the blood pressure for both events.


New guidelines for blood pressure lowers the top number from 140 to 120. The Institute trial method brings systolic pressure


levels down from the standard 140 mm Hg to a safer 120 mm Hg over 80. Medical practitioners have long been seeking reli-


able evidence as to what goals should be used to safely guide them in treating hypertension levels. The cur- rent findings offer a potentially lifesaving method that could save the lives of countless people today at risk from the effects of elevated blood pressure. The current study, called the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT), began in 2009 and in- cludes more than 9,300 participants age 50 and older, recruited from across the United States. It is the larg- est study of its kind to investigate the disease effects of maintaining systolic blood pressure at a lower rate. In the view of an Institute spokesman, the current


trial results “provide important evidence that treating blood pressure to a lower goal in older or high-risk pa- tients can be beneficial and yield better health results.” Aside from medication, high blood pressure can be


effectively fought through a series of lifestyle changes: •


Follow – strictly – a diet rich in vegetables,


fruits and low-fat dairy products, along with whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts; keep saturated fats, red meats, sweets and sugary beverages to a minimum. •


Cut down salt consumption. Blood pressure rises with higher consumption of sodium. • •


Increase potassium intake.


Increase physical activity – aim for 150 min- utes of exercise a week. Walking is highly beneficial. •


Restrict alcohol consumption; one drink a day is recommended maximum – and stop smoking. •


Manage stress. In stressful situations, blood


pressure rises and the heart rate speeds up, so avoid. The role of chronic stress is uncertain. For each less-stressful activity pursued, the effect


on lowering blood pressure should be cumulative. A healthy lifestyle should have a significant payoff in re- ducing hypertension.


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