Blood pressure pills for everyone?

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Blood pressure pills for everyone?

A new research paper published online in the British Medical Journal has concluded that everyone aged over 55 should be given medicines to lower their blood pressure, regardless of whether or not they have high blood pressure.

The study by Professor Malcom Law reviewed 147 previous studies of blood pressure medicines, involving over 450,000 people. It found that these medicines could lower the risk of heart attacks and heart failure by a quarter, and the risk of stroke by a third. This risk-lowering effect could be found regardless of a person’s starting blood pressure.

Professor Law and colleagues argue that the results of this study show a clear benefit of treating everyone aged 55 or over with blood pressure medicines. Your risk of heart disease and stroke increases as you get older, and the researchers argue that blood pressure medicines are an effective way of lowering this risk.

Professor Law has previously made headlines for proposing that a “polypill” containing blood pressure medicines, cholesterol medicines and aspirin, should be given to all older adults to prevent heart disease and stroke. This new research adds to his argument that preventative treatment with medicines may be a long-term strategy to reduce disability and death.

However, some protest that such a strategy risks turning everyone into patients. Others point out that a general plan to prescribe medicines without assessing a person’s individual risk does not provide quality care, and overlooks the role of healthy lifestyle in lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Mike Rich, Executive Director of the Blood Pressure Association, said: "Prevention is better than cure, but there are other proven ways to prevent high blood pressure such as healthy eating and regular exercise, which have other health benefits too. There is a danger that these important lifestyle factors could be overlooked in favour of 'popping a pill'."

Source: MR Law et al. Use of blood pressure lowering drugs in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. BMJ 2009: 338:b1665

Topics: Research, Medicines, Lifestyle, High blood pressure

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