DALLAS, June 19 -- Individuals taking drugs to control high blood pressure should be warned not to stop treatment without a doctor's orders. The penalty may be a stroke, researchers report in this month's Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.
The study offers the first evidence of a link between discontinuing drugs to control high blood pressure and increased stroke risk, says lead author Amanda G. Thrift, Ph.D., of the department of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Monash Medical School in Australia's Victoria province.
The three-year study analyzed medical records from 331 individuals who had a bleeding stroke, called intracerebral hemorrhage, from 1990 through 1992 and compared them to a control group of 331 of the same age and sex.
"Our study demonstrates that people with high blood pressure have more than twice the likelihood of having a stroke than people whose blood pressure is normal," Thrift says.
"Three groups are at particularly high risk -- younger people with high blood pressure, smokers with high blood pressure, and those who stop taking their blood pressure medications." These people have between five and seven times more risk of suffering an intracerebral hemorrhage. The study did not determine why individuals stopped taking their medicine.
"High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for intracerebral hemorrhage," says Thrift. About one-third of all people who have this type of stroke die within 30 days, Thrift points out, and a high percentage of survivors are left with serious permanent disability.
Because little can be done to curb the damage after a stroke, prevention is of major importance, she emphasizes.
"The bottom line," says Thrift, "is if you have high blood pressure, keep taking those medications, have regular blood pressure checks, and give up smoking."