Blood pressure numbers to aim for as we get older

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What number should you be aiming for when it comes to your blood pressure?  A recent study was halted early because the results were very clear and very dramatic.

Blood pressure is an easy thing to keep track of, and get this, a recent study finds, when it comes to that top number, there's a huge difference between 120 and 140.

Mary Powers and her husband of 63 years celebrate the fact that they are living independently.

"We're still in our home and we have a garden, we travel a little and enjoy life," Powers said.

Like a lot of people in their 80s, Mary has high blood pressure-she takes medication to keep it under control.

"The most common reasons that people end up losing their independence are often complications of hypertension," said Jeff D. Williamson, M.D., Wake Forest School of Medicine.

So that begs the question what should be the target blood pressure for the older population? Doctors just released results from the Sprint Trial, that's Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial:  2600 people, 75 and older with high blood pressure.

Williamson says: "We wanted to test and see whether a systolic blood pressure target of less than 120 millimeters of mercury, that's the top number measured in the doctor's office, was more effective than 140 at reducing the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and death."

The trial was supposed to run five years, using medication to bring blood pressure down to the top number of 120 or 140.

"After just over two years, the study was stopped by the National Institutes of Health because we found a strongly favorable result in those individuals assigned to a blood pressure treatment target of less than 120," Williamson said.

The study appears in JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association.

For this study medication was used to control blood pressure. Exercise and diet is also key. You can learn more in the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension.

even those who were somewhat frail appeared to benefit from the lower blood pressure target.

"This should remove a great deal of confusion for patients and their physicians about what the blood pressure target should be for older people," Williamson said.

Mary's blood pressure has been well controlled and she has just one word for how she feels these days - "great."

For this study medication was used to control blood pressure. Exercise and diet is also key, we'll put a link to the dash eating plan that’s the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension.