(NBC News) A major new study of the effect of lowering blood pressure proved so beneficial it was stopped early.
Doctors have found that getting patients' systolic blood pressure reading, that's the top number, down to 120 instead of the previous goal of 140 slashed the number of heart attacks, strokes and heart failure by nearly a third.
What's more, deaths were cut by 25-percent.
"With one in three people in our country with hypertension, a lot of them fall in the category of patients that we studied: over age 50 with hypertension and at least one cardiovascular risk factor," says Dr. Julia Lewis of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The study did not include and does not apply to people with diabetes, anyone who's had a stroke, and those under age 50.
Still, the research project funded by the National Institutes of Health was large, including nearly 10,000 men and women of various races at more than 100 medical centers across the United States.
Patients who got their blood pressure down to 120 were on an average of three medications. There were no obvious negative side effects in the trial, but doctors are still looking closely at that.
"One may also wonder about over-medication in some patients, particularly the elderly, where low blood pressure or hypotension can result in falls, dizziness and light-headedness," notes Dr. Sahil Parikh of UH Case Medical Center.
Researchers are also studying how dramatically lowering blood pressure may impact memory or kidney function. That part of the study is ongoing and should be released in 2016.