Millions more Britons could be prescribed pills that lower their blood pressure to help ward off strokes and heart attacks, a study has suggested.
Researchers found that blood pressure-lowering medication reduces the risk of serious heart conditions – even in adults with healthy blood pressure.
The benefits of treatment in preventing strokes, heart disease and death were found to be similar regardless of the starting blood pressure level of the patient, and whether or not they had pre-existing heart conditions.
Experts said the findings have important implications for current NHS guidelines that typically limit the medication to those with high blood pressure. Lead author Professor Kazem Rahimi, from the University of Oxford, said: ‘Our findings are of great importance to the debate concerning blood pressure treatment.
Researchers found that blood pressure-lowering medication reduces the risk of serious heart conditions – even in adults with healthy blood pressure [File photo]
‘This new and best available evidence tells us that decisions to prescribe blood pressure medication should not be based simply on a prior diagnosis of cardiovascular disease or an individual’s blood pressure level.’
However, he added: ‘We are not saying that everyone must begin treatment. The decision will depend on an individual’s risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease, the potential for side effects and patient choice.’
Heart disease and strokes, linked to high blood pressure, kill 160,000 people in the UK each year.
An estimated 15million adults in the UK have the condition. Blood pressure is measured in units of millimetres of mercury (mmHg).
Heart disease and strokes, linked to high blood pressure, kill 160,000 people in the UK each year [File photo]
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Patients with high blood pressure are usually prescribed pills, including beta-blockers, to keep it under control.
But the study, published in the Lancet journal, suggests this medication could help people whose blood pressure falls in the normal range.
Scientists looked at data from 344,716 adults, with an average age of 65, who were on drugs to lower blood pressure. They were separated into those with a prior diagnosis of cardiovascular disease and those without, then divided based on their blood pressure.
Over an average of four years follow-up, 42,324 participants had at least one major cardiovascular event – a heart attack, stroke or heart failure.
For every 5 mmHg reduction in blood pressure, the risk of developing major cardiovascular disease fell by around 10 per cent and stroke by 13 per cent.
Risk of heart failure dropped 13 per cent, heart disease 8 per cent and death from cardiovascular disease 5 per cent.
Researchers found the beneficial effects of the treatment did not differ based on a history of having had cardiovascular disease or the level of blood pressure at study entry.