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American Heart Association reports Older, Healthy Adults with systolic BP below 140 have Lower Stroke Risk

American Heart AssociationDallas, TX – Raising the systolic blood pressure threshold from 140 to 150 mmHg, as a new target for high blood pressure treatment in older people who don’t have chronic kidney disease or diabetes, could put this population at greater stroke risk, according to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension.

The increased stroke risk is even more pronounced among Hispanics and blacks, the research showed.

Blood pressure cuff. (American Heart Association)
Blood pressure cuff. (American Heart Association)

In 2014, panel members appointed to the Eighth Joint National Committee, known as the JNC 8, published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association recommending treatment of high blood pressure in people 60 years and older whose systolic pressure – the top number in a blood pressure reading – was 150.

The paper, however, was not an official guideline.

“We started this analysis very soon after [the JAMA paper] came out … because we were concerned about the recommendation’s potential effect on stroke prevention,” said study author Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., professor and chair of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Sacco and colleagues from University of Miami and Columbia University studied 1,750 people ages 60 years and older, who were free of stroke, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.

Researchers measured participants’ systolic blood pressure at the study’s start and noted during an average 13 years if any of those patients had strokes. Among those studied, 63 percent were women, 48 percent were Hispanic, 25 percent white, and 25 percent black. Forty-three percent of participants had systolic readings of less than 140 mmHg; 20 percent were between 140 and 149 mmHg; and 37 percent had systolic pressures of 150 mmHg and higher.

They found:

  • Over the median 13 years of follow-up, 182 people developed stroke.
  • Having a systolic blood pressure of 140 to 149 mmHg elevated stroke risk as much as having systolic blood pressure greater than 150.
  • Those with 140 mmHg systolic blood pressure and higher at the start of the study were 70 percent more likely to suffer a stroke compared to adults with normal systolic pressure, which is less than 140 mmHg.
  • The increased stroke risk was most notable among Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks.

“The findings suggest one should not liberalize or change the treatment threshold for blood pressure in people older than 60 without chronic kidney disease or diabetes. For stroke prevention, maintaining a blood pressure target of 140 mmHg is important,” Sacco said.

There are limitations to the study, according to Sacco. One is that it’s an observational, not a randomized study, which means the researchers observed what happened in the study population rather than randomly assigning people to treatment groups for comparison. A study strength is that it had strong minority representation. That’s important, Sacco said, because blacks and Hispanics have greater risks of stroke and more hypertension than whites.

“As a result, more aggressive treatment of blood pressure in those population groups is even more critical,” he said. “In general, our findings support adherence to the current American Heart Association guidelines that consistently recommend treatment for blood pressure above 140-90 mmHg in order to improve cardiovascular health and reduce stroke.”

Co-authors are: Chuanhui Dong, Ph.D.; David Della-Morte, M.D., Ph.D.; Tatjana Rundek, M.D., Ph.D.; Clinton B. Wright, M.D., M.S.; and Mitchell S. V. Elkind, M.D., M.S.

Author disclosures are on the manuscript.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) supported the study.

Additional Resources

  • View the manuscript online.
  • Target: BP – A new tool for physicians to help increase blood pressure control in their practice
  • Heart.org/hbp – Information and inspiration to help you take control of your blood pressure
  • Follow AHA/ASA news on Twitter @HeartNews.
  • For the latest blood pressure science, follow the Hypertension journal at @HyperAHA

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