Blood Pressure: How Low Should You Go?

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As many as one in three people in the U.S. have high blood pressure. But when it comes to the numbers and your heart health, how low should you go? That's the question researchers attempted to answer in a landmark study some cardiologists are calling the most important blood pressure study in 40 years. It's called the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial or SPRINT.

Tonja Filmore has always paid attention to her health.

As a county correctional sergeant, being physically and mentally fit was always a must for such a demanding job.

"Having to respond and get into altercations with inmates," Filmore explained.

The gym was always her go-to plan for staying in shape. But two years ago Tonja learned her fitness classes alone were not enough to keep her healthy.

Filmore told Ivanhoe, "What they told me was that I did the entire class and just passed out and stopped breathing."

Tonja was in sudden cardiac arrest. Two nurses and a doctor at the gym restarted her heart. During her recovery, she learned high blood pressure probably played a big part.

Swathy Kolli, MD, Cardiologist at the Orlando Heart Center told Ivanhoe, "With hypertension by itself, your heart muscle gets very thick. There are certain areas of the heart that are not getting a blood supply."

Right now, for people 50 and over, the target systolic, or top number, is 140. The SPRINT trial measured the benefit of using medication to lower that to 120 in older adults and found the rates of heart attack, heart failure and stroke went down by 33 percent. The risk of death was lowered by 25 percent.

For cardiologists, like swathy kolli, the new, lower number can provide a useful guideline. But it's only part of the equation.

Dr. Kolli said, "Really, blood pressure management is, should be, very, very individualized."

Tonja celebrated her 50th birthday with a new, healthy lifestyle and a blood pressure that stays around 120 with the help of medication.

Filmore said, "Don't take life for granted. Every day is a gift."

In addition to the blood pressure systolic number, doctors should also consider other risk factors, like additional medical conditions, and current medications. The SPRINT study was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, and included more than 9,300 participants recruited from 100 medical centers nationwide.

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