Your Blood Pressure Target: Lower Isn't Always Better

While it's good to shoot as low as possible for your blood pressure target, it doesn't seem to help below a certain point

For those of us with high BP, working toward a lower blood pressure target is part of our daily struggle toward health. It's always a happy day when you can record a substantial decrease in BP, especially when it starts to edge into the standard range. Goodbye, hypertension! You're on your way!

Now, you'd think that the further down into the standard range you can get your BP, the better off you'd be -- but a recent study suggests it just ain't so.

Heart Healthy Henry here to tell you why, and what you should aim for instead.

The Normal Range

Broadly speaking, normal blood pressure range is about 90/60 to 140/90 for healthy individuals. Typically, the goal for anyone suffering higher levels is to get it down below that magic 140/90 mark. It's long been assumed by researchers that the lower the BP target, the better. After all, it seems logical enough.

In fact, the trend is for hypertension experts to recommend a BP target of no higher than 135/85 for their patients. But physical evidence shows that it really doesn't matter how low you go once you reach the safe range, at least if you're taking standard blood pressure medications.

The Cochran Study

In July 2009, Jose Arguedas of the University of Costa Rica and colleagues Marco Perez and James Wright of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, published the results of a study of seven trials in the prestigious Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. In all, 22,089 patients were involved.

The researchers discovered that while using more drugs did enable the patients to achieve BP targets below 135/85, there was no noticeable decrease in morbidity as a result. Nor did the lower targets reduce the threat of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure or heart failure.

The Bottom Line

Simply put, those people who took higher drug doses to push below the normal target BP range were wasting their time. The extra drug doses apparently didn't harm them, but neither did their modest drop in BP help them.

There may be other "net health effects" of taking extra BP-lowering drugs, but the data isn't clear at this time. The team is currently examining studies of hypertensive individuals also suffering from diabetes and renal disease, though a quick glance suggests that lower BP levels don't help there, either.

The upshot is this: if you can get your BP into the normal range and keep it there, you're certain to decrease your health risks. But as the evidence currently stands, "the lower the better" concept is a myth. So if your doctor presents you with a lower blood pressure target than 140/90, you should bring up this study.

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