Should all over-50s take blood pressure tablets?

Blood pressure tablets have myriad benefits and should be considered for all over-50s, according to an expert. Kazem Rahimi, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Oxford University, says the pills can be effective at reducing the risk of strokes, heart attacks, heart failure and heart disease even in those without high blood pressure.

The professor, along with his team, analysed 350,000 people who were either given common blood pressure pills, like ACE inhibitors and beta blockers, or placebos. They discovered that those aged between 55 and 84 were nine per cent less likely to experience a cardiovascular event for every small drop in their blood pressure.

Professor Rahimi told Mail Online: “We saw a reduction in risk among people who were in the normal range for blood pressure, or where it was moderately elevated, as well as in those with high blood pressure. That suggests everyone aged 50 or over should be considered for blood pressure tablets.

“GPs are often cautious in prescribing these drugs because they don’t want to over-medicalise people with normal blood pressure, but this study shows these preventative drugs reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes for these people, in all age groups.”

Not everyone agrees that artificially lowering blood pressure in seemingly healthy people is a good idea, as it could reduce blood flow to the heart and brain. Despite such concerns, the authors of the study found no evidence of increased deaths from conditions like strokes or memory problems.

In fact, in the average four and a half years that the scientists followed up with participants, it was found the risk from such events was reduced by nine per cent for every five millimetres reduction in their systolic blood pressure. This level of low blood pressure can be achieved by taking just a single tablet a day.

At present, treatment is only given to people with significantly elevated blood pressure, but the risk of cardiovascular events rises with age. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence healthy blood pressure readings for the over-80s should be below 150/90.

Professor Rahini added: “Older people have an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, so doctors should not withhold blood pressure tablets from them. It would be simple to calculate their risk, and whether the drugs are needed, based on factors such as age, blood pressure, their cholesterol level, whether they smoke and if they have diabetes.”

The research was partly funded by the British Heart Foundation and its representative Sir Nilesh Samani welcomed the results. He said that the study highlights the importance of controlling blood pressure in the elderly to reduce risk.