The Systolic Hypertension in the Elderly Program (SHEP) is a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial to determine if antihypertensive treatment of isolated systolic hypertension (ISH) [systolic blood pressure (SBP) greater than or equal to 160 mmHg, diastolic blood pressure (DBP) less than 90 mmHg] reduces the 5 year incidence of fatal and nonfatal stroke. Between March 1, 1985 and January 15, 1988, 4736 persons (target 4800) with ISH, age 60 years and over, were enrolled. Potential participants met blood pressure (BP) and age criteria. Those on antihypertensive medication prior to enrollment without documented diastolic hypertension had their medication tapered and discontinued, and then met BP criteria (33% of cohort). Stepped-care therapy with chlorthalidone and atenolol (alternative, reserpine) or matching placebos was initiated as first and second steps. At baseline the trial population was 43.1% male, 56.9% female; 13.9% black, 86.1% non-black. Also, the mean age was 71.6 years; the mean SBP was 170.3 mmHg and the mean DBP was 76.6 mmHg; 59.8% had codeable resting electrocardiographic abnormalities. The trial is now in follow-up phase with scheduled termination in 1991.