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Saturday, 16 March, 2002, 00:07 GMT
Blood pressure drug may slow decline
The drug may help elderly women retain mobility
The drug may help elderly women retain mobility
A drug given to lower blood pressure could protect elderly women against a decline in muscle strength, researchers suggest.

ACE inhibitors are already known to prevent the decline in physical function in patients with congestive heart failure (CHF), but US researchers decided to investigate if that was also true in women who did not have CHF.

Muscle strength declines as people get older, and it can also be affected by serious illness - meaning the elderly can have problems in everyday activities such as getting up and down stairs.

ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors work by expanding blood vessels and decreasing the pressure the blood needs to be pumped at to travel around the body.


It does suggest avenues for research

Professor Stuart Parker
The drug is already prescribed to many patients with high blood pressure, and also more broadly to those at risk of heart attack or stroke.

In this study, by doctors at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, North Carolina, doctors followed 641 women with hypertension, or high blood pressure, over three years.

Walking speed

They looked at rates of decline in the strength of the extensor muscle around the knee and reduction in walking speed.

The women, whose average age was 79, had all taken part in a major study about women's health and ageing.

Sixty-one had used ACE inhibitors continuously, 133 intermittently, 301 had used other antihypertensive drugs either continuously or intermittently and 146 had never used antihypertensive drugs.

Those who continuously used ACE inhibitors had a lower average decline in muscle strength after three years; 1 kg compared with a decline of 3.7 kg in continuous or intermittent users of other antihypertensive drugs.

Women who had never used antihypertensive drugs had an average decline in muscle strength of 3.9 kg.

Those who had used ACE inhibitors continuously also had a substantially smaller reduction in 3-year walking speed; (1.7 cm per second) compared with intermittent users of ACE inhibitors (13.6 cm per second).

Women who either intermittently used antihypertensive drugs or did not use antihypertensive drugs at all saw much more reduction in their walking speed.

Research potential

Dr Graziano Onder who led the study, said: "Our results suggest that ACE inhibitor treatment could decrease long-term decline in physical function in elderly women who do not have CHF.

"If these findings can be confirmed in randomised controlled trials, ACE inhibitors could not only be used as first-line treatment of older adults with hypertension, but could also be used to slow physical decline in elderly people."

Stuart Parker, professor of health care for older people at the Sheffield Institute for Studies on Ageing said: "This is an interesting study, but we have got to be careful not to over-emphasise its importance."

He said the findings would not mean a rapid change in clinical practice, but added: "It does suggest avenues for research into treatments which could slow down the loss of physical strength associated with ageing, and with diseases in old age."

See also:

01 Oct 01 | Health
Drug 'reverses heart decline'
20 Sep 00 | Health
Doctors 'reverse' heart failure
05 Sep 01 | Health
Stroke prevention - for 50p a day
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