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Use of blood pressure lowering drugs in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of 147 randomised trials in the context of expectations from prospective epidemiological studies

Law MR, Morris JK, Wald NJ.
BMJ 2009;338:b1665

OBJECTIVES: To determine the quantitative efficacy of different classes of blood pressure lowering drugs in preventing coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke, and who should receive treatment. DESIGN: Meta-analysis. Data source Medline (1966-2007). STUDY SELECTION: Randomised trials of blood pressure lowering drugs recording CHD events and strokes. 108 trials studied differences in blood pressure between study drug and placebo (or control group not receiving the study drug) ("blood pressure difference trials"), and 46 trials compared drugs ("drug comparison trials"). Seven trials with three randomised groups fell into both categories. The results were interpreted in the context of those expected from the largest published meta-analysis of cohort studies, totalling 958 000 people. PARTICIPANTS: 464 000 people defined into three mutually exclusive categories: participants with no history of vascular disease, a history of CHD, or a history of stroke. RESULTS: In the blood pressure difference trials beta blockers had a special effect over and above that due to blood pressure reduction in preventing recurrent CHD events in people with a history of CHD: risk reduction 29% (95% confidence interval 22% to 34%) compared with 15% (11% to 19%) in trials of other drugs. The extra effect was limited to a few years after myocardial infarction, with a risk reduction of 31% compared with 13% in people with CHD with no recent infarct (P=0.04). In the other blood pressure difference trials (excluding CHD events in trials of beta blockers in people with CHD), there was a 22% reduction in CHD events (17% to 27%) and a 41% (33% to 48%) reduction in stroke for a blood pressure reduction of 10 mm Hg systolic or 5 mm Hg diastolic, similar to the reductions of 25% (CHD) and 36% (stroke) expected for the same difference in blood pressure from the cohort study meta-analysis, indicating that the benefit is explained by blood pressure reduction itself. The five main classes of blood pressure lowering drugs (thiazides, beta blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, and calcium channel blockers) were similarly effective (within a few percentage points) in preventing CHD events and strokes, with the exception that calcium channel blockers had a greater preventive effect on stroke (relative risk 0.92, 95% confidence interval 0.85 to 0.98). The percentage reductions in CHD events and stroke were similar in people with and without cardiovascular disease and regardless of blood pressure before treatment (down to 110 mm Hg systolic and 70 mm Hg diastolic). Combining our results with those from two other studies (the meta-analyses of blood pressure cohort studies and of trials determining the blood pressure lowering effects of drugs according to dose) showed that in people aged 60-69 with a diastolic blood pressure before treatment of 90 mm Hg, three drugs at half standard dose in combination reduced the risk of CHD by an estimated 46% and of stroke by 62%; one drug at standard dose had about half this effect. The present meta-analysis also showed that drugs other than calcium channel blockers (with the exception of non-cardioselective beta blockers) reduced the incidence of heart failure by 24% (19% to 28%) and calcium channel blockers by 19% (6% to 31%). CONCLUSIONS: With the exception of the extra protective effect of beta blockers given shortly after a myocardial infarction and the minor additional effect of calcium channel blockers in preventing stroke, all the classes of blood pressure lowering drugs have a similar effect in reducing CHD events and stroke for a given reduction in blood pressure so excluding material pleiotropic effects. The proportional reduction in cardiovascular disease events was the same or similar regardless of pretreatment blood pressure and the presence or absence of existing cardiovascular disease. Guidelines on the use of blood pressure lowering drugs can be simplified so that drugs are offered to people with all levels of blood pressure. Our results indicate the importance of lowering blood pressure in everyone over a certain age, rather than measuring it in everyone and treating it in some.

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