High blood pressure (hypertension) is on the rise in the United States but more Americans than ever before are getting diagnosed and treated for the disease, according to a report published in the latest issue of Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association. Untreated hypertension can lead to cardiovascular disease and adequate treatment of hypertension means more people are living longer with the disease while fending off its more serious medical complications.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), authors of the report, say their comparison study of two nationwide health surveys confirms previous observations that the rate of high blood pressure (BP) in the US is growing alongside the obesity epidemic. One of the health risks associated with bearing excess weight is hypertension.

The NHLBI researchers turned to the on-going National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a multi-phased study of American adults age 18 and older. The researchers compared the results of the NHANES III study, conducted between 1988 and 1994, with data collected between 1999 and 2004 as part of the current NHANES survey. The earlier survey involved 16,351 respondents and the current survey involves 14,430 respondents thus far.

Some age- and gender-related findings of the study include:

  • The rate of hypertension rose from 24.4% to 28.9% from the earlier survey to the most recent survey.
  • While being overweight or obese accounted for some of the additional cases of hypertension, the weight factor did not remain constant across age and race/ethnicity divides.
  • Weight is more likely to play a role in men’s hypertension than women’s.
  • Age 40 marked an increase in women’s hypertension; age 60 did so for men.
  • Americans testing in the normal range for blood pressure dropped from 55.5% to 50.3%.
  • The rate of prehypertension increased from 32.3% to 36.1% Prehypertension is defined as systolic (upper) reading between 120 and 139 and/or diastolic (lower) reading between 80 and 89.

Hypertension has often been described as the “silent disease” because initial symptoms are rare and the disorder frequently goes undetected by the patient although it becomes apparent in a medical exam. The NHLBI study indicates the awareness of the disorder is becoming more common and leads to earlier diagnosis and treatment, allowing the patient to achieve control of his or her BP at the earliest possible opportunity.

With regard to awareness, treatment, and control, the NHLBI study reveals:

  • 72% of the population is aware of having the disorder, 61% are in treatment for it, and 35% had gained control of their hypertension in the latter survey (1999 to 2004).
  • An additional 5% of all men and 5% of non-Hispanic black women are now aware of their hypertension than were aware of it in the earlier survey.
  • More members of all race and gender groups are now in treatment for hypertension, with significant increases seen in non-Hispanic black men and women and non-Hispanic white men.
  • The number of people achieving control of their hypertension grew between the two surveys, particularly in non-Hispanic white men, who saw in increase in control from 22% to 39% between surveys and in non-Hispanic black men, who saw an increase from 17% to 30%.
  • There was no significant degree of change for BP control seen in white women between the two surveys, a reversal of the previous trend of white women being in better control of their hypertension than white men.
  • The control rate in Mexican Americans remained the lowest among all ethnicities, with young men (16%) and older women (19%) gaining the least control of the disorder.

Jeffrey A. Cutler, MD, describes gains in treatment and control as considerable but not yet ideal and suggests stronger preventive measures may be the best approach to treating hypertension. Cutler, a consultant at the NHLBI Divisions of Prevention and Population Sciences and Cardiovascular Diseases, is lead author for the study, which was funded by NHLBI and the National Center for Health Statistics.

Source: American Heart Association