'Intensive' blood pressure treatment benefits seniors, won't increase fall risk

Increasing the level of blood pressure therapy for older adults can reduce their risk of heart disease without raising fall risk, a new study has found.

The research, published on Thursday, analyzed more than 2,600 adults over age 75 randomly split into two groups. One group had a standard systolic blood pressure target of 140 mm Hg, while the other had an “intensive” target of 120 mm Hg. The patients in the intensive group needed, on average, one additional medication. Most of these medications were generic brands, researchers noted.

Results of the study showed the intensive target group to be one-third less likely to have a heart attack, heart failure or stroke, and almost one-quarter less likely to die. The intensive group also had no changes in rates of complications that commonly accompany low blood pressure like fainting, falls, acute kidney injury or hospitalizations, researchers said.

"If you look at elderly people who are hospitalized in the year that they become disabled and have to leave their home, about half the time those diagnoses or hospitalizations result from complications of [high blood pressure], like heart failure, stroke and heart attack," said lead researcher Jeff Williamson, M.D., of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

The intensive therapy is “safe” and can benefit even the “most vulnerable” ambulatory seniors, Williamson added.

The study was conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health's Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, or SPRINT, and appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association. SPRINT made headlines late last year when it was ended more than a year early because of its “landmark” findings.