A new study shows by giving a blood pressure drug to people with measurements above normal but not yet considered too high, the development of hypertension might be delayed.
The preliminary research found that when patients with slightly raised blood pressure took the hypertension drug Atacand over a two year period, they had a 15.6 percent lower risk of developing hypertension.
In the study 772 patients took either the blood pressure drug Atacand for two years or a placebo pill.
Then for the following two years, all the patients received a placebo so that researchers could evaluate blood pressure changes.
The people in the study, aged 30 to 65, had what researchers called "pre-hypertension," meaning blood pressure readings which were above normal but did not meet the definition of hypertension, or high blood pressure.
A blood pressure reading of about 120/80 is considered optimal; in the study high blood pressure was defined as 140/90.
Hypertension is known to increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke and was listed as a primary or contributing cause in about 277,000 American deaths in 2003, according to the American Heart Association.
At the end of the study period, 240 patients in the placebo group and 208 in the Atacand group had high blood pressure.
There were no major differences in reports of side effects between the two groups.
As many as 59 million Americans have pre-hypertension, and the study's authors say the findings are promising but more research is needed.
Dr. Stevo Julius, a University of Michigan researcher says the study shows that the postponement of hypertension onset through medical treatment is feasible, and without side effects.
Julius says however that the effect is moderate, and further studies in younger people and over longer periods of time are needed in order to demonstrate clinical usefulness.
The researchers conclude that over a period of four years, treatment of pre-hypertension with Atacand appeared to be well tolerated and reduced the risk of incident hypertension during the study period.
They believe the treatment of pre-hypertension to be feasible.
Atacand also is known by the generic name candesartan.
AstraZeneca sponsored the study, which was released at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology and published by the New England Journal of Medicine.