That's what a new Danish study has found, and the added benefit could help an estimated 10 million Americans who have both high blood pressure and an abnormality of the heart muscle that reduces the flow of blood to the body. The findings appear in the March 5 issue of Circulation.
Dr. Kristian Wachtell and his colleagues at Copenhagen County University Hospital in Denmark used an advanced imaging technique to study heart function in 728 patients who had both high blood pressure and left ventricular hypertrophy -- an abnormal thickening and stiffening of the chamber that pumps blood to the body. That combination is found in about a quarter of the 40 million Americans with hypertension.The muscle problem can lead to congestive heart failure, as the left ventricle fails to fill properly and pump blood adequately, Wachtell explains.
"For the first time, we have been able to show that any kind of medication can impact the filling of the left ventricle," he says. "Using blood pressure-lowering drugs can affect both the passive filling of the chamber and its active contraction."
At the start of the study, only 15 percent of the patients had normal filling of the left ventricle. After a year, 26 percent did. In addition, there was an average reduction of 10 percent in the abnormally thick mass of the heart muscle, which improved pumping ability.
The study centered on just two medications -- one of them in the family of beta blockers, the other in a class called angiotensin II receptor blockers. The physicians don't know which patients are getting which drug because of the strict scientific controls applied to the study, Wachtell says.
"But we will be able to tease that information out later," he says.
It's almost certain the beneficial effect on the heart muscle comes from other drugs that control blood pressure as well, says Dr. Richard B. Devereux, a professor of medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York and a participant in the international study.
That's because many of the patients received more than one medication, he explains. Each was started on one drug, and if blood pressure reduction did not reach the goal, a diuretic was added. If that didn't work, yet another medication was added, as the dose of the first drug was increased.
"The majority of the people in the trial were on one additional medication," Devereux says.
The lesson of the study, he says, is that "treating high blood pressure reduces the heart rate, improves filling of the heart. That should translate into reduced heart failure."
What To Do
Here's yet another reason why everyone should check their blood pressure regularly, and take steps to keep it down.
Find out more about left ventricular hypertrophy.