Feds applaud early results from study targeting blood pressure

Gary Gibbons, M.D., is director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at NIH.
Gary Gibbons, M.D., is director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at NIH.

Federal researchers are so convinced that lower blood pressure goals could save lives, they've ended a landmark study more than a year early.

The SPRINT study was intended to determine whether dropping blood pressure targets below long-established goals could reduce rates of cardiovascular disease and lower the risk of death in adults 50 years and older with high blood pressure.

National Institutes of Health researchers reported that working toward a systolic pressure of 120 mmHg reduced heart attack, heart failure and stroke by nearly a third. The risk of death dropped by almost a quarter, compared to those who adhered to the old systolic target of 140 mm Hg.

The largest study of its kind, SPRINT began in fall 2009 and involved more than 9,300 participants from across the U.S. The research team will spend another year studying whether the lower targets could improve cognitive function or kidney function.

Any changes could have major implications for seniors. In 2014, a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute panel recommended pushing systolic goals higher for patients over 60, who might be more prone to dizziness or falls with lower blood pressure.

Critics also question whether artificially lowering blood pressure with multiple drugs  could cause problems of its own.