A team of researchers studied the association between blood pressure swings and heart disease. The study, published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine, involved analyzing blood pressure readings from 25,814 participants who went through the Anti-hypertensive and Lipid Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial (ALLHAT).
Typically, patients' blood pressure is taken with every visit to the doctor. High blood pressure, which is known to increase the risk for heart attack, stroke, heart disease and other cardiovascular problems, alerts physicians. However, blood pressure variations are often considered less important, according to a summary for patients published alongside the original article in the online version of the Annals of Medicine.
The researchers recorded the participants' blood pressures during seven physician visits that were spread out over 22 months to see if there were variations, and to see how much they varied.
The participants were then observed for an average of 2.8 years to check if any of them would develop cardiovascular disease or die. The blood pressure readings of those who exhibited cardiovascular disease were analyzed for variability.
The researchers discovered that an average blood pressure variation of 15 mm Hg resulted in patients developing a 30 percent increased risk for heart attack or fatal heart disease and a 40 percent increased risk for stroke. The blood pressure swings were also linked to a 58 percent increased risk for death.
However, because the study was based on data from ALLHAT, the researchers were unable to show a direct relationship -- only an association -- between the blood pressure variations and the cardiovascular disease risk.
Paul Muntner, lead researcher of the study and a professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama School of Public Health, said the variations may indicate a continuing damage to the arteries, such as stiffening, according to Health Day.
"Patients should have their blood pressure controlled," Muntner said. "They should be aware that their blood pressure changes, and if there is a lot of variation, they might want to talk with their doctor about why it's changing," he added, according to Health Day.
Muntner said certain blood pressure medicines like diuretics and calcium channel blockers can control blood pressure variations better compared to others. He urged people with high blood pressure to maintain it within the goal range through medications, healthy diet and exercise.