Harvard Heart Letter

Optimal blood pressure: A moving target?


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If you're concerned about heart disease, discuss your blood pressure target with your doctor.

Earlier this fall, federal officials stopped a major blood pressure study a full year earlier than planned, based on what they called "potentially lifesaving benefits" from the findings. The preliminary results suggest that in people with high blood pressure, achieving a systolic blood pressure (the first number in a reading) of 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) in-stead of 140 mm Hg can substantially lower a person's risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and death.

That target of 120 mm Hg is lower than the current blood pressure treatment guidelines recommend. In fact, two years ago, a group of hypertension experts suggested that people ages 60 or older consider a higher blood pressure target. The reason: many older people already take multiple medications, and taking several blood pressure drugs to reach a lower goal could put them at risk for side effects and drug interactions.

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