Background: Isolated systolic hypertension occurs in about 15% of people aged 60 years or older. In 1989, the European Working Party on High Blood Pressure in the Elderly investigated whether active treatment could reduce cardiovascular complications of isolated systolic hypertension. Fatal and non-fatal stroke combined was the primary endpoint.
Methods: All patients (> 60 years) were initially started on masked placebo. At three run-in visits 1 month apart, their average sitting systolic blood pressure was 160-219 mm Hg with a diastolic blood pressure lower than 95 mm Hg. After stratification for centre, sex, and previous cardiovascular complications, 4695 patients were randomly assigned to nitrendipine 10-40 mg daily, with the possible addition of enalapril 5-20 mg daily and hydrochlorothiazide 12.5-25.0 mg daily, or matching placebos. Patients withdrawing from double-blind treatment were still followed up. We compared occurrence of major endpoints by intention to treat.
Findings: At a median of 2 years' follow-up, sitting systolic and diastolic blood pressures had fallen by 13 mm Hg and 2 mm Hg in the placebo group (n = 2297) and by 23 mm Hg and 7 mm Hg in the active treatment group (n = 2398). The between-group differences were systolic 10.1 mm Hg (95% CI 8.8-11.4) and diastolic, 4.5 mm Hg (3.9-5.1). Active treatment reduced the total rate of stroke from 13.7 to 7.9 endpoints per 1000 patient-years (42% reduction; p = 0.003). Non-fatal stroke decreased by 44% (p = 0.007). In the active treatment group, all fatal and non-fatal cardiac endpoints, including sudden death, declined by 26% (p = 0.03). Non-fatal cardiac endpoints decreased by 33% (p = 0.03) and all fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular endpoints by 31% (p < 0.001). Cardiovascular mortality was slightly lower on active treatment (-27%, p = 0.07), but all-cause mortality was not influenced (-14%; p = 0.22).
Interpretation: Among elderly patients with isolated systolic hypertension, antihypertensive drug treatment starting with nitrendipine reduces the rate of cardiovascular complications. Treatment of 1000 patients for 5 years with this type of regimen may prevent 29 strokes or 53 major cardiovascular endpoints.