WASHINGTON -- The use of a standard hypertension drug to treat a certain type of high blood pressure afflicting mainly older Americans caused a dramatic reduction in the incidence of stroke, heart attacks and other types of cardiovascular disease among a study group, federal researchers reported yesterday.
The study has major public health implications for the estimated 3 million to 4 million Americans older than 60 who suffer from isolated systolic hypertension.
The study's results showed that low doses of a frequently prescribed diuretic, chlorthalidone, combined in some cases with a low dose of a beta-blocker, atenolol, decreased stroke by 36 percent, heart attacks by 27 percent and all cardiovascular disease by 32 percent.
"The . . . results disprove one myth about old age: that stroke is an inevitable consequence of aging," said Dr. T. Franklin Williams, director of the National Institute on Aging, which sponsored the study with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "We . . . health care providers must offer this treatment to our older patients as quickly as possible."
Federal health officials estimated that treatment using the two drugs, which costs less than 25 cents a day, could prevent about 75,000 strokes and heart attacks every year in the elderly population and could save an estimated $500 million a year in hospital and other related costs for treating them.
The study is being published in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
An estimated 50 million to 60 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure, a known major risk factor for stroke -- the No. 3 killer of Americans -- and heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
Isolated systolic hypertension means that the pumping pressure of the heart as it pushes blood into the arteries is higher than it should be.
It is associated with a risk of stroke two to three times higher, as well as an increased risk of coronary heart disease, heart failure, heart attack and sudden death from cardiovascular disease.