By Stephanie Stahl

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Researchers are reporting urgent and potentially lifesaving information for millions of Americans who have high blood pressure. The researchers are part of a study whose results were so striking, federal health officials ended it early to get the word out. Part of the study was done right here in Philadelphia.

One in three Americans has high blood pressure. For years, cardiologists have wondered how low blood pressure should go. They usually tried to reach a systolic blood pressure level of 140. Turns out a much lower target blood pressure is better.

The findings were from a NIH-sponsored study that included more than 9,300 blood pressure patients age 50 and older with risk factors. One group of patients reached the current target for systolic blood pressure: 140. The other half was treated more aggressively to reach a target of 120.

Patients who reached 120 saw their risk of death plummet by almost 25 percent. Also, the lower group’s cardiovascular problems dropped by almost 30 percent.

“That’s a combined benefit for heart attack, heart failure, and strokes. A 30 percent reduction in those events is really very large,” said Dr. Crystal Gadegbeku, a nephrologist at Temple University Hospital. Forty of her patients were in the study. She says aggressive treatments did not cause additional side effects.

“This is what a researcher lives for,” Dr. Gadegbeku said.

The full study will be released in a few months to guide patient care.

“Their physician is going to have to look at them and their risks before making any decisions about what level their blood pressure control should have,” Dr. Gadegbeku said.

The study authors will continue to follow patients to see if the same aggressive blood pressure treatment also helps lower the risk of dementia and kidney disease.

Temple University School of Medicine

More information about the study, called the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, can be found here:

Stephanie Stahl