New American research has found that intensively lowering blood pressure could reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heartbeat also known as a heart flutter.
Carried out by scientists at Wake Forest School of Medicine, the new study looked at data from a study called the National Institutes of Health Systolic Blood Pressure (SPRINT) trial, which looked at individuals with hypertension (high blood pressure) and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
The researchers had access to data on 8,022 participants who were free of AFib at the start of the study and who were randomly split into two groups: 4,003 subject were placed in an intensive blood pressure control group and given medication to lower their systolic blood pressure to a target of less than 120 mm Hg, and 4,019 participants were placed in a standard lowering group and given the same medications but a target systolic blood pressure of less than 140 mm Hg.
The participants were then followed for up to five years.
The findings, published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, showed that lowering systolic blood pressure to less than 120 resulted in a 26 percent lower risk of AFib compared to having a systolic blood pressure of less than 140.
Moreover, the effect of intensive blood pressure lowering on AFib risk was similar in all groups of the participants regardless of their sex, race or levels of blood pressure.
“This is the first evidence from a randomized controlled trial that showed benefit in reducing the risk of atrial fibrillation as a result of aggressive blood pressure control to a target of less than 120 mm Hg,” said the study’s lead author, Elsayed Z. Soliman, M.D.
“Hypertension is the most common modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation,” Soliman said. “And now, we have a potential pathway for prevention.”
AFib is the most common heart rhythm disorder. The likelihood of developing the condition increases with age, and more than half of AF patients are aged 80 or older. Symptoms include chest pain, ‘racing’ or unusual heartbeat palpitations, weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness and shortness of breath, and the condition increases the risk of stroke, other medical problems and death.
Previous findings from the SPRINT trial also published by Wake Forest Baptist researchers have shown that lowering blood pressure may also reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and slow age-related brain damage.