When the federal government announced in September that it had abruptly halted a large blood pressure study because its results were so compelling, doctors were left in frustrating limbo.
The announcement said researchers had found that driving systolic blood pressure to levels far below what current guidelines recommend — less than 120 instead of 140 or 150 millimeters of mercury — can save lives and prevent heart disease and strokes. But they declined to release any data on the number of lives saved, the number of heart attacks prevented or other critical measures.
"How can anyone do anything different tomorrow with regard to blood pressure control without knowing more about what they found?" asked Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at Yale, echoing the concerns of other specialists.
On Monday, reporting at an American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Fla., and in a paper published simultaneously in The New England Journal of Medicine, study investigators lifted the veil. Among the 9,361 hypertension patients followed for an average of 3.2 years, there were 26 percent fewer deaths (155 compared with 210) and 38 percent fewer cases of heart failure (62 compared with 100) among patients who achieved the systolic pressure target of 120 than among those who achieved the current 140 target.