Common Treatment for Mild Hypertension Challenged

Release Date: August 15, 2012 | By Milly Dawson, Contributing Writer
Research Source: The Cochrane Library


  • A new review finds that for people with mild high blood pressure without cardiovascular disease, drug therapy does not reduce the 5 year incidence of a heart attack, stroke or death.
  • People with mild high blood pressure and no cardiovascular disease may benefit more from non-drug interventions, such as changes to diet and exercise.
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Doctors often prescribe drugs for people with mild high blood pressure with the hope of preventing cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, a new review from The Cochrane Library has found that this treatment does not reduce death rates, heart attacks or strokes.

Current guidelines in the U.S., Europe and Canada support drug treatment for people with mild hypertension, the majority of hypertension patients, even when they have no history of cardiovascular events. Consequences of such treatment include potential side effects, cost, and inconvenience.

“In people with no cardiovascular events and mild elevations in resting blood pressure (140 – 159/90 – 89 mmHg), it is not known whether the benefits of drug therapy exceed the harms,” said Diana Diao, M.D., resident physician at the University of British Columbia.  To answer this concern, the research team combined findings from 4 clinical trials done between 1976 and 2000, which together included data on 8,912 study participants followed for up to 5 years.

The researchers found that 400 people with mild hypertension would have to be treated for five years to prevent one death and 128 people would have to be treated for five years to prevent one cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack. However, treated patients had a nine percent risk of an adverse effect that would force them to stop taking the prescribed drug.

These findings might prompt physicians to emphasize non-drug treatment approaches, including changes in diet and exercise, said the authors. They note that many physicians have been prescribing medications for patients with mild hypertension thinking that the approach is based on evidence from randomized clinical trials.

Luci Belnick, M.D., an Orlando-based physician with over 25 years experience questioned the new findings’ validity. She said that the patients should have been followed for longer than five years as that is a short time in terms of accumulating vascular damage due to hypertension; that the studies included concerned many drugs that are now seldom used; and that the studies included too few African-Americans, who have elevated risks of kidney damage and strokes from even mild hypertension.

“Before you diagnose and treat a patient, it’s important to make sure that they really have hypertension, that their particular patient group has a meaningful risk of hypertension complications, even long-term, and that you select a medication with a known benefit in that group,” she said.

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The Cochrane Library ( contains high quality health care information, including systematic reviews from The Cochrane Collaboration. These reviews bring together research on the effects of health care and are considered the gold standard for determining the relative effectiveness of different interventions.

Diao D, Wright JM, Cundiff DK, Gueyffier F. Pharmacotherapy for mild hypertension. Cochrane Database of Systematic

Reviews 2012, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD006742. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006742.pub2.


Tags for this article:
Heart Disease   Prescription Drugs  

Comments on this article
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Michael McCarthy says
August 7, 2012 at 5:22 PM

I'm not questioning her assessment, but the story would be stronger if we were told more about Dr.Belnick's background. Why was she selected to comment? Is she a researcher? Is she an expert in hypertension? What are her qualifications, other having been in practice for 25 years? They may be extensive, but we can't tell from the story.

Ray Hooker says
October 25, 2013 at 11:57 AM

Michael makes a good point. Still even if she has quite a bit of experience, it does not mean that she is interpreting it correctly. Is she fighting this conclusion based on solid or anecdotal evidence supporting the current guidelines. Additionally it is coming out that many of advisory boards are lead by physicians with financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Unlike most fields, they are not asked to recuse themselves. No matter how fair minded you might want to be, it will influence and bias your judgement. It is studies like this that are needed to set things straight.