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1 blood pressure pill prevents strokes better

A large head-to-head comparison of two widely used blood pressure pills found one dramatically superior in preventing strokes and diabetes, even though they are equal at reducing hypertension.

The winner was Merck's Cozaar, which was pitted against the older and widely used beta blocker drug known generically as atenolol. The study was paid for by Merck.

Typically, doctors are satisfied simply to get patients' high blood pressure down and feel it does not matter much which kind of drug accomplishes the goal. Researchers say the new study is the first to show that how blood pressure is lowered can be important, too.

The study found that patients on Cozaar were 25 percent less likely to suffer strokes and 25 percent less likely to develop diabetes. However, the two drugs lowered patients' blood pressure virtually identically.

Dr. Bjorn Dahlof of Goteburg University in Sweden presented the results Wednesday at the annual meeting in Atlanta of the American College of Cardiology. The study will also be published in this week's issue of the British journal Lancet.

The study involved 9,193 men and women with hypertension in Scandinavia and the United States. All had signs of thickening of the heart's main pumping chamber, an ominous sign of blood pressure damage.

Dahlof said that in the United States, about 3.9-million people have these conditions. Putting all of them on Cozaar instead of atenolol would prevent an additional 66,000 strokes and 54,000 new cases of diabetes annually.

Atenolol _ or Tenormin _ is one of many beta blockers that are widely prescribed after heart attacks. Dahlof said heart attack victims who also have high blood pressure should probably take both medicines.

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