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People who take their blood pressure medicine live longer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Blood Pressure Monitor

If you don’t want to take your blood pressure medication, or if your doctor isn't prescribing, consider a new study that shows people who take anti-hypertensive drugs live longer. Patients who were given a simple fluid pill to lower their systolic blood pressure had an increased life expectancy, compared to people given a placebo in the investigation.

John B. Kostis, M.D., of the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, N.J., and colleagues conducted the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), to find out what effect keeping blood pressure lower had on outcomes such as living a longer life.

For the research, participants were given the diuretic (fluid pill) chlorthalidone for 4.5 years and then compared to a group given a placebo 20 years later.

Blood pressure pills are known to reduce the chances of cardiovascular disease, but until now no study had looked at how the drugs might increase life expectancy.

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The Systolic Hypertension in the Elderly Program (SHEP) trial was designed to see if chlorthalidone would reduce the incidence of stroke for patients with high systolic blood pressure, which is the top number of a blood pressure reading. Study participants were enrolled between March 1985 and January 1988.

At 22 years, people given the blood pressure drug gained 158 days of life-expectancy from heart disease and 105 more days from all causes.

"Reporting that each month of antihypertensive therapy was associated with 1 day prolongation of life expectancy free from cardiovascular death is a strong message that may result in increased patient adherence to drug therapy and decrease the degree of therapeutic inertia by health care providers," the authors write.

The take home message from the study is, if your systolic blood pressure is high – greater than 140 – taking medication can help you live longer. Blood pressure pills don't have to be a long-term proposition either. Watching your salt intake, engaging in regular activity and losing weight can eliminate the need for medication altogether.

Image credit: Morguefile