Recommendation ID

ion (with or without type 2 diabetes), what are the appropriate risk and blood pressure thresholds for starting treatment?

Any explanatory notes
(if applicable)

Why the committee made the recommendations
The evidence suggested that antihypertensive drug treatment was effective at reducing cardiovascular events in people with a clinic blood pressure of 160/100 mmHg or more (stage 2 hypertension).

A large study also suggested there was benefit of treating people with stage 1 hypertension. However, other studies in people with a low cardiovascular risk did not identify a benefit of treatment, and the committee agreed that the benefit of treatment across different cardiovascular risk groups was uncertain. The evidence was used to develop an economic model to compare the cost effectiveness of antihypertensive treatment with no treatment in people with stage 1 hypertension at different levels of cardiovascular risk. For people aged 60, the model showed that treatment was cost effective at a 10-year cardiovascular risk level of 10%, but there was some uncertainty at around 5% risk. Further analysis showed that it was cost effective to offer antihypertensive treatment to people aged 40 and 50 with stage 1 hypertension at a 5% risk and aged 70 and 75 at a 10% or 15% risk. QRISK was specified as the risk tool because it is recommended by NICE for risk calculation and most likely to be used in practice.

Taking into account the evidence and the results of the model, the committee were confident that people under 80 with stage 1 hypertension and a cardiovascular risk above 10% should have a discussion with their healthcare professional about starting antihypertensive treatment, alongside lifestyle changes, and that this would be a clinically and cost-effective use of NHS resources. The committee also agreed that antihypertensive treatment should be considered for people under 60 with a risk below 10%, with the degree of uncertainty in treating people at low risk reflected in the strength of the recommendation.

The committee members were mindful of the additional population that would be affected by lowering the threshold and aware that the decision to start drug treatment would depend on the person's preferences and their individual risk of cardiovascular disease. The recommendations highlight the importance of discussing the person's preferences for treatment and encouraging lifestyle changes.

Some studies investigated the benefits of treating hypertension in people with lower cardiovascular risk or people with blood pressure below 140/90 mmHg. However, some of these studies were not directly relevant because they included a high proportion of participants with chronic kidney disease and previous cardiovascular events. For this reason, several studies could not be used to inform the recommendations. For details of these studies see evidence review C: initiating treatment.

The committee discussed the lack of evidence to inform a threshold for starting treatment in people aged under 40. It was agreed that this is an important area for future research and the research recommendation was carried forward from the previous guideline.

The committee agreed that there was no evidence to suggest that thresholds for starting treatment should be different in people with type 2 diabetes. The previous recommendations for people with type 2 diabetes (in NICE's guideline on type 2 diabetes in adults) suggested starting antihypertensive drug treatment if lifestyle interventions alone did not reduce blood pressure to below 140/80 mmHg or 130/80 mmHg in the presence of kidney, cerebrovascular or eye disease. However, this was based on evidence from 2 small studies in which the participants did not have hypertension. Further evidence for lower treatment thresholds in people with type 2 diabetes was limited within this review, with the committee aware of some evidence to suggest that lower blood pressure thresholds did not reduce the rate of cardiovascular events in people without additional risk factors. The committee therefore agreed that there was insufficient evidence to recommend a different threshold for starting treatment for this subgroup.

There was no evidence identified on thresholds for people aged over 80, and no prior recommendation for this age group with hypertension below stage 2, therefore the committee agreed that the threshold for starting treatment in people aged over 80 should be consistent with the target for treatment in this population (150/90 mmHg or lower).

The committee discussed the additional risks of starting treatment in older people, particularly those who are frail or have multiple comorbidities. Based on their expertise and experience, they agreed that the use of clinical judgement should be highlighted in decision making for people with frailty or multimorbidity, and that it should apply to people of any age. The committee agreed that a number of factors should be considered when discussing treatment options in this group and noted that healthcare professionals should refer to NICE's guideline on multimorbidity for further advice.

How the recommendations might affect practice
The recommendations will have a significant impact on practice because more people will now be eligible for treatment. It is difficult to predict the extent of the impact because there is variability in how the 2011 recommendation with a threshold of 20% is being implemented in practice. However, it is believed, based on some recently published UK data, that potentially around 50% of people with stage 1 hypertension and risk below 20% are already being treated with antihypertensive drugs (Sheppard et al. 2018).

People with stage 1 hypertension should already be monitored every year, but reducing the threshold will increase the number of people being prescribed antihypertensive drugs and increase staff time and consultations involved in starting and monitoring their drug treatment. However, there will be a reduction in cardiovascular events resulting in savings, although it is acknowledged that the costs and savings may fall in different sectors of the NHS.

Full details of the evidence and the committee's discussion are in evidence review C: initiating treatment.

Source guidance details

Comes from guidance
Hypertension in adults: diagnosis and management
Date issued
August 2019

Other details

Is this a recommendation for the use of a technology only in the context of research? No  
Is it a recommendation that suggests collection of data or the establishment of a register?   No  
Last Reviewed 31/08/2019