Blood pressure medication protects against heart attacks and strokes — even in people who do not have pre-existing hypertension, a history of adverse heart events or heart disease, a new study has found.

Researchers analyzed health data from more than 340,000 participants from 48 trials. Participants were divided into groups with and without a prior diagnosis of cardiovascular disease. These two groups were then divided into seven subgroups based on systolic blood pressure at the study’s start.

Each 5 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure was found to reduce the relative risk of major cardiovascular events by about 10%, reported Kazem Rahimi, M.D., of the University of Oxford, England. Participants lowered their risk of stroke by 13% and heart failure by 14%. The odds of experiencing ischaemic heart disease and death from cardiovascular disease were reduced by 7% and 5%, respectively.

Prior diagnosis of cardiovascular disease and blood pressure levels at the study’s start did not change the effect of treatment, Rahimi reported.

“The decision to prescribe blood pressure medication should not be based simply on a prior diagnosis of cardiovascular disease or an individual’s current blood pressure,” he said. “Rather, blood pressure medication should be viewed as an effective tool for reducing cardiovascular risk when an individual’s probability of having a heart attack or stroke is elevated.”

There are a number of risk calculators health professionals can use to determine risk, Rahimi added, and the potential for side effects and the cost of treatment must be considered as well.

The study was presented last week at the European Society of Cardiology Conference 2020.