Antihypertensive therapy would prevent about 56,000 cardiovascular events annually and 13,000 deaths from strokes, myocardial infarctions, and other causes if it were used by all U.S. adults who qualify for treatment under 2014 Joint National Committee hypertension guidelines, according to computer modeling published online Jan. 28 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Even though the new Joint Committee guidelines are a bit less stringent than the committee’s prior 2003 advice, blood pressure remains inadequately controlled in 44% of the 64 million U.S. adults with hypertension, according to the investigators, led by Dr. Andrew Moran of Columbia University Medical Center, New York ( N. Engl. J. Med. 2015;372:447-55 ).

The team used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the Framingham Heart Study, and other sources to estimate costs and benefits of expanding treatment to all U.S. adults aged 35-74 years who meet the 2014 benchmarks. They then calculated cost-effectiveness of expanding use in various subpopulations, using $50,000/quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) gained, or less, as their cut-off.

Overall, the investigators found that fuller implementation of the Joint Committee goals would pay for itself in reduced cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The results were driven primarily by secondary prevention in patients with cardiovascular disease and primary prevention in patients with stage 2 hypertension, meaning systolic BP of 160 mm Hg or higher or diastolic BP of 100 mm Hg or higher.

“There is an enormous potential for improving population health by expanding treatment and improving control. Our findings clearly show that it would be worthwhile to significantly increase spending on office visits, home blood pressure monitoring, and interventions to improve treatment adherence. In fact, we could double treatment and monitoring spending for some patients – namely those with severe hypertension – and still break even,” Dr. Moran said in a statement announcing the results.

Treatment of patients with existing cardiovascular disease or stage 2 hypertension would save lives and costs in all men 35-74 years old and in women aged 45-74 years. The treatment of more modest hypertension – systolic BP of 140-159 mm Hg or a diastolic BP of 90-99 mm Hg – was cost effective for all men and for women also between the ages of 45 and 74 years, but treating women 35-44 years old with moderate hypertension and diabetes or kidney disease had intermediate cost-effectiveness ($125,000 per QALY), and low cost-effectiveness ($181,000 per QALY) if those comorbidities were not present.

“Some people will be alarmed about our conclusion that it may not be cost effective to treat hypertension in young adults, especially young women. It’s worth noting that our analysis didn’t capture the cumulative, lifetime effects of hypertension. It may well turn out to be cost effective to treat this group if we look at data on costs and benefits over several decades,” Dr. Moran said.

The team assumed a medication adherence rate of 75%. The costs of treatment included medications, monitoring, and drug side effects.

They did not analyze the effect of diet and lifestyle interventions for lowering blood pressure, or compare the cost-effectiveness of specific antihypertensive medication classes or combinations.

The work was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, among others. The authors reported no relevant financial disclosures.