MUNICH – The European Society of Cardiology joined other international cardiology groups in endorsing lower targets for blood pressure treatment and lower pressure thresholds for starting drug treatment in its revised hypertension diagnosis and management guidelines released in August during the Society’s annual congress here.
“Provided that treatment is well tolerated, treated blood pressure should be targeted to 130/80 mm Hg or lower in most patients,”, said as he and his colleagues presented the new guidelines at the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology.
Although the new European guidelines further buttress this more aggressive approach to blood pressure management that first appeared almost a year ago in U.S. guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, an approach that remains controversial among U.S. primary care physicians, the European strategy () was generally more cautious than the broader endorsement of lower blood pressure goals advanced by the U.S. recommendations ( ).
In the European approach, “the first objective is to treat to less than 140/90 mm Hg. If this is well tolerated, then treat to less than 130/80 mm Hg in most patients,” said Dr. Mancia, cochair of the European writing panel. Further pressure reductions to less than 130/80 mm Hg are usually harder, the incremental benefit from further reduction is less than when pressures first fall below 140/90 mm Hg, and the evidence for incremental benefit of any size from further pressure reduction is less strong for certain key patient subgroups: people at least 80 years old, and patients with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or coronary artery disease, said Dr. Mancia, an emeritus professor at the University of Milan.
“The consistency between two major guidelines is important, but there are differences that may look subtle but are not subtle,” he said in a video interview. “If a patient gets to less than 140 mm Hg, the doctor should not think that’s a failure; it’s a very important result.”
One striking example of how the two guidelines differ on treatment targets is for people at least 80 years old. The overall blood pressure threshold for starting drug treatment in patients this age in the European guidelines is 160/90 mm Hg, although it remains at 140/90 for people aged 65-79 years old “provided that treatment is well tolerated” and the patients are “fit.” The 2017 U.S. guidelines, by contrast, say that considering drug treatment for everyone with a pressure at or above 130/80 mm Hg is a class I recommendation regardless of age as long as the person is “noninstitutionalized, ambulatory, [and] community-dwelling.” Once an older patient of any age, 65 years or older, starts drug treatment to reduce blood pressure, the European guidelines allow for treating to a target systolic blood pressure of 130-139 mm Hg as long as the regimen is well tolerated, and the guidelines say that a diastolic pressure target of less than 80 mm Hg should be considered for all adults regardless of age.
The new European guidelines also define adults with an untreated pressure of 130-139/85-89 mm Hg as “high normal,” rather than the “stage 1 hypertension” designation given to people with pressures of 130-139/80-89 mm Hg in the U.S. guidelines., vice chair of the U.S. guidelines panel, minimized this as a “semantic” difference, and he highlighted that management of people with pressures in this range is roughly similar in the two sets of recommendations. “The name is different, but treatment is the same,” Dr. Carey said.
The European guidelines call for initial lifestyle interventions, followed by drug treatment “that may be considered” for patients who have “very-high” cardiovascular risk because of established cardiovascular disease, especially coronary artery disease, and detail the specific clinical conditions that fall into the very-high-risk category. The U.S. guidelines say that stage 1 hypertension patients should get lifestyle interventions, followed by drug treatment for the roughly 30% of patients in this category who score at least a 10% 10-year risk on the American College of Cardiology’s Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.The new European guidelines are a “validation” of the ACC/AHA 2017 guidelines, commented Dr. Carey, a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “Overall, we’re delighted to have these two major groups” agree, he said in an interview. “There is a tremendous amount of concurrence.”
Other areas of agreement between the two guidelines include their emphasis on careful and repeated blood pressure measurement, including out-of-office measurement, before settling on a diagnosis of hypertension; systematic assessment of possible masked or white-coat hypertension in selected people; and frequent use of combined drug treatment including initiation of a dual-drug, single-pill regimen when starting drug treatment and aggressive follow-up by adding a third drug when needed. However, in another divergence the U.S. guidelines give a much stronger endorsement to starting treatment with monotherapy, a strategy the European guidelines scrapped.
Dr. Carey also noted that the European endorsement of three antihypertensives formulated into a single pill for patients who need more than two drugs would be difficult for American clinicians to follow as virtually no such formulations are approved for U.S. use.
Dr. Mancini has received honoraria from Boehringer Ingelheim, CVRx, Daiichi Sankyo, Ferrer, Medtronic, Menarini, Merck, Novartis, Recordati, and Servier. Dr. Williams has been a consultant to Novartis, Relypsa, and Vascular Dynamics, and he has spoken on behalf of Boehringer Ingelheim, Daiichi Sankyo, Novartis, and Servier. Dr. Carey and Dr. Whelton had no commercial disclosures.