Controlling blood pressure early prevents heart disease in elderly

HONOLULU, April 25 Hypertensive elderly individuals who begin blood pressure therapy before signs of heart disease appear may completely avoid the associated cardiovascular problems, according to a researcher from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) who presented these findings at the American Heart Association's 42nd Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease and Epidemiology Prevention.

"We found that elderly individuals with untreated systolic hypertension are three times more likely to experience adverse cardiovascular events like heart attack, angina, stroke or heart failure than are elderly individuals with normal blood pressure," said presenter Kim Sutton-Tyrrell, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at GSPH. "However, hypertensive study participants who underwent treatment for their high blood pressure greatly reduced their risk of adverse cardiovascular events, particularly if they were still free of detectable disease when they initiated treatment."

The findings are based on an analysis of the Pittsburgh cohort of the Systolic Hypertension in the Elderly Program (SHEP), a national clinical trial that was the first to show the effectiveness of treating systolic hypertension.

Approximately 30 percent of people age 80 and above have systolic hypertension, a type of high blood pressure that is a result of atherosclerosis (stiff vessels or "hardening of the arteries"). Systolic hypertension is reflected in a blood pressure reading that has a high top (systolic) number and a normal low (diastolic) number.

The SHEP trial lasted 4.5 years, after which participants who had been taking placebo were encouraged to see their doctors and begin medication therapy. Some did and some did not. Likewise, some participants in the medication group voluntarily discontinued therapy after the trial ended.

University of Pittsburgh researchers continued to follow all of the Pittsburgh SHEP participan

Contact: Kathryn Duda
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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