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Even Slightly Higher BP May Raise Stroke Risk

Experts say the finding highlights importance of keeping blood pressure under control


Results were the same even after researchers adjusted for other factors influencing stroke risk such as high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking.

"A major take-away point is, even if your blood pressure has been normal, to keep tabs on it," said Dr. John Volpi, a stroke neurologist at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, who was not involved in the research. "If you see it creeping up, it's time to start asking how you can get it down."

Sacco said the new findings are particularly important in light of recent guidelines adjusting "goal" blood pressure levels for adults over 60 years of age (without diabetes or chronic kidney disease) from 140/90 or less to 150/90 or less.

The guidelines, published last December in the Journal of the American Medical Association, were written by a group originally commissioned by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to review blood pressure guidelines.

"I think this is an area of controversy," said Sacco, a vice president of the American Academy of Neurology and past president of the American Heart Association. "Most of us, particularly those with an interest in preventing stroke, feel that this loosening of the target over age 60 may be detrimental in stroke prevention."

Sacco and Volpi agreed that risk factors such as heredity and age may predispose people to higher blood pressure levels, but that careful lifestyle choices can help keep levels under control.

"Losing weight, becoming more physically active and reducing sodium consumption are three key behaviors you can do to reduce blood pressure if you're in the prehypertension range," Sacco said. "If it can't be controlled well enough, you'll need to use medication. There are numerous excellent medications out there for blood pressure control, but it's important to couple them with lifestyle changes."

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