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Last Updated: Monday, 6 August 2007, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
Hypertension drugs 'aid elderly'
Blood pressure
High blood pressure can be a sign of heart disease
An international trial of drugs to lower blood pressure in the over-80s has been stopped early because the results were so impressive.

Researchers, led by Imperial College London, found the drugs significantly cut strokes and heart-related death.

The Hypertension in the Very Elderly Trial (HYVET) was the largest of its type, with 3,845 patients taking part.

Previous smaller trials suggested the drugs produced inconclusive results when given to elderly patients.

They suggested that lowering blood pressure in those aged 80 and over cut the number of strokes, but it did not reduce, and may even have increased, overall death rates.

Stroke is the third most common cause of death in the England and Wales
In 2004, 11% of deaths amongst those aged 75-84, and 14% of deaths amongst those aged over 85 were due to stroke
About one third of stroke patients die within six months of the event, the majority within one month
High blood pressure increases the chance of a blood vessel leaking or rupturing, and of a clot forming within a blood vessel - both of which can trigger a stroke

In the latest trial which began in 2001, patients with high blood pressure were either given a low dose diuretic and an ACE inhibitor called perindopril in tablet form once a day, or a dummy pill.

Lead researcher Professor Chris Bulpitt said: "Our results are great news for people in this age group because they suggest that where they have high blood pressure, such treatment can cut their chances of dying as well as stroke."

The trial was stopped last month, but definitive results will not be available for some time.

'Very important'

In the meantime, all patients who took part in the trial will be offered the option of switching to the anti-hypertensive treatment.

Because of a lack of strong evidence, there has been limited prescription of drugs to lower blood pressure in the elderly
Professor Jeremy Pearson
British Heart Foundation

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, said: "Confirming that blood pressure lowering is effective at preventing strokes in elderly people, as well as in younger people is very important.

"In the past because of a lack of strong evidence, there has been limited prescription of drugs to lower blood pressure in the elderly, despite the fact that their likelihood of stroke is substantially increased.

"This study has paved the way for elderly people to now have access to this life-saving treatment."

Dr Isabel Lee, of The Stroke Association, said high blood pressure was the single biggest risk factor for stroke, adding that about 50,000 strokes per year could be prevented through its control.

She said: "An estimated 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke each year with three quarters being over the age of 65, so the trial's observations are very encouraging news for the UK's ageing population."

Pressure drug cuts heart deaths
31 Aug 03 |  Health

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