For years doctors have been uncertain what the optimal goal should be for patients with high blood pressure. The aim of course is to bring it down, but how far and how aggressively remained a mystery.

Researchers report that lowering blood pressure to 120 — instead of the current guideline of 140, or even higher for older people — could prevent more than 100,000 deaths a year in the United States alone.

The projections are based on earlier findings from the Sprint study, an analysis of more than 9,300 people age 50 and older that found that intensive blood pressure treatment could be lifesaving for adults at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

For this new analysis, in Circulation, scientists used data on a broad sampling of 2,185 men and women 50 or older at high risk for heart disease. They followed them from 1999 through 2011, tracking their blood pressure and their use of antihypertensive medicines. The researchers calculated that nationwide implementation of such treatment could result in 107,500 fewer deaths annually.

If guidelines are changed because of this study — as blood pressure experts expect that they will be — an already falling death rate from heart attacks and stroke could drop even more, said Dr. Jackson T. Wright Jr., a blood pressure expert at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Case Medical Center, and a study investigator. Because cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States, a change in blood pressure goals could also reduce the nation’s overall mortality rate, he said.

There are trade-offs — risks and side effects from drugs — and there were lingering questions about whether older patients needed somewhat higher blood pressure to push blood to the brain.

At any case, making positive lifestyle changes can help enhance your quality of life and reduce your risk of heart disease due to high blood pressure. Make changes that matter!

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