August 4, 2005

‘Prehypertension’ Triples Heart Attack Risk

WASHINGTON -- People whose blood pressure is slightly elevated -- a condition called prehypertension -- have triple the risk of a heart attack compared to those with healthy blood pressure, researchers said on Thursday.

The finding, published in the journal Stroke, supports a move by federal and academic heart experts last year that defines prehypertension as blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89. High blood pressure starts at 140/90.

"There is a gray zone, where you are not hypertensive but your blood pressure is not normal either," said Dr. Adnan Qureshi of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, who led the study.

"If we were to eliminate prehypertension, we could potentially prevent about 47 percent of all heart attacks," Qureshi added in a statement.

The American Heart Association estimates that 59 million people in the United States are prehypertensive.

Qureshi and colleagues looked at the records of people taking part in a large health survey called the Framingham Study.

They found the volunteers in the study who were in the prehypertension range were more than three times more likely to have a heart attack and 1.7 times more likely to have heart disease than a person with normal blood pressure.

People with prehypertension did not have a significantly increased risk of stroke.

"This is somewhat surprising, but it may be related to the small number of stroke events in the study," Qureshi said.

If people have prehypertension they are now advised to try to lower their blood pressure by exercising, avoiding salt and eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

It may be that medication is also needed to lower blood pressure to below 120/80, Qureshi said.