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HEALTH REPORT – January 8, 2003: Drugs for High Blood Pressure - 2003-01-07

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world suffer from high blood pressure, including about fifty-million Americans. High blood pressure is the main cause of heart failure and strokes, and can lead to heart attacks. Medicines called diuretics, or water pills, have been used to treat high blood pressure for many years. They do so by helping reduce water and sodium in the body. Diuretics increase the flow of urine, the body’s liquid waste.

A new study shows that diuretics treat high blood pressure better than newer and more costly medicines. Diuretics also prevented heart failure and strokes slightly better than the costly drugs. Diuretics cost only about ten cents for each pill. This compares with almost two dollars a pill for one of the costly medicines in the study.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Maryland organized the study. The Journal of the American Medical Association published the results in December. The research began in nineteen-ninety-four. More than forty-two-thousand people in more than six-hundred hospitals took part. It was the largest study of blood pressure treatment ever carried out in the United States.

There were many more women, blacks and Hispanics in the latest study than in earlier studies. The average age of the patients was sixty-seven. They all had high blood pressure. They also had at least one other health problem that might lead to heart disease.

The patients took one of three kinds of drugs. One drug was a diuretic. The other medicines were newer and much more costly. One was a drug called a calcium channel blocker. The other was an ACE inhibitor.

Researchers studied the patients’ progress for an average of five years. All the medicines lowered blood pressure. But the diuretic reduced the risk of problems including heart trouble and strokes better than the other drugs.

Doctors have been ordering diuretics for their patients for more than fifty years. But new drugs developed in the past twenty years reduced the popularity of diuretics. The United States Food and Drug Administration approved the more costly drugs after major studies. However, those studies did not compare the newer drugs to diuretics.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.