Time to rethink blood pressure tests: experts

LONDON Tue Jun 17, 2008 7:13am EDT

A doctor checks the blood pressure of a patient at the J.W.C.H. safety-net clinic in the center of skid row in downtown Los Angeles July 30, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

A doctor checks the blood pressure of a patient at the J.W.C.H. safety-net clinic in the center of skid row in downtown Los Angeles July 30, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

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LONDON (Reuters) - Doctors need to rethink the way they measure blood pressure and focus only on the higher of the two conventional readings in patients older than 50, European experts said on Tuesday.

Systolic pressure -- the peak pressure in the arteries at the start of the heart's pumping cycle -- is the key risk factor for older patients who are most susceptible to heart problems, they reported in the Lancet medical journal.

"Since more than 75 percent of people with hypertension are aged over 50 years, the burden of disease is mainly due to systolic pressure," Bryan Williams of the University of Leicester, Peter Sever of Imperial College London and Lars Lindholm of Sweden's Umea University Hospital wrote.

"The use of diastolic pressure for diagnosis and risk analysis in our ageing populations has thus become illogical."

Diastolic pressure is the lowest pressure in the rest phase of the heart cycle.

Measuring only systolic pressure would simplify treatment strategies and make it easier for patients to understand their condition, they argued.

It would also focus the minds of researchers at drug companies to develop new anti-hypertension medicines addressing the correct target.

Drugs to treat high blood pressure remain an important business for pharmaceutical companies, even though many products such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and diuretics are available as cheap generics.

Novartis's biggest seller, for example, is the anti-hypertensive Diovan, which had worldwide sales of $5 billion last year.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Cowell)

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