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NC Researchers Play Role In 'Life-Saving' Blood Pressure Study

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Researchers in North Carolina and nationwide may have finally answered an important question in health care: for people with high blood pressure, how low should they aim for? Late last week, the National Institutes of Health released results from a landmark study early because it’s already been conclusive.

High blood pressure can contribute to heart attacks, strokes and other health problems, and about a third of Americans have it, according to the National Institutes of Health.

For years, doctors have recommended those people get the top number in their blood pressure reading down to 140, even though 120 is considered normal.

David Reboussin is a professor at Wake Forest School of Medicine.  

"There was sort of a tendency to think the evidence for lower targets wasn't strong enough and that they might not be beneficial," he says. "The trial was designed to really make a definitive test of whether 140 is a better goal or whether it would be better to treat blood pressure down to 120."

The trial is called SPRINT, and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center served as its coordinating center. Reboussin was the principal investigator there.

For three years, researchers nationwide followed more than 9,000 people with high blood pressure. They were at least 50 years old. One group aimed for their top number to drop to at least 140, while the other group aimed for 120.

Reboussin says it became clear the lower target is the right one.

"With much more benefit than was expected: about a 30 percent reduction in major cardiovascular events and reduction of about a quarter in death rates during the study, which is truly surprising," he says.

He calls the initial findings “life-saving” and says they were conclusive enough to be released about a year early.

He suggests people with high blood pressure talk to their doctors before making changes.