High blood pressure incidence rates remain unchanged, but more know about it

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Even though the number of U.S. adults with high blood pressure has not changed over the past decade, U.S. government researchers report that many more know about it — over 80 percent in 2008, up from 70 percent in 1999-2000 — and are getting treated for it. Approximately 30 percent of Americans have high blood pressure — a number that has remained stable since 1999 across gender, age and race — but almost 74 percent of adults took drugs to treat it in 2008, compared to 50 percent in 1999-2000.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross is glad to hear the good news since controlling high blood pressure, in conjunction with better cholesterol control and reduced smoking rates, has contributed to the decline of cardiovascular disease observed over the last 20+ years. He does, however, note that the researchers’ definition of high blood pressure — systolic blood pressure of 140 or more and a diastolic blood pressure of 90 or more — is a bit obsolete. “Medical authorities have reduced the criterion for high blood pressure and also added a pre-hypertension category, where a blood pressure reading of 140 over 90 is no longer considered normal.”

Reminiscing about the days when he was in practice, Dr. Ross recalls a time when physicians would accept systolic blood pressure measurements as high as 160 in older patients. “But now we know systolic hypertension is just as dangerous as diastolic hypertension and can lead to preventable stroke or heart attack. Currently, we want to get blood pressure as low as possible without becoming symptomatic. Even though some middle-aged and older men might not be able to tolerate it, a blood pressure reading as low as 110 over 60-70 will probably extend a healthy lifespan tremendously.”

Currently, over 48 percent of adults with high blood pressure have it under control, while only 30 percent of cases were well-managed in 1999-2000.

“High blood pressure is known as the silent killer, but almost everyone with high blood pressure can be treated successfully with the appropriate drugs. Forty-eight percent is not an acceptable level, although not everyone’s blood pressure can be well-controlled. We should be aiming higher, though,” adds Dr. Ross.

“So see your barber as soon as possible,” quips ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, referring to this week’s research showing that barbers who measure blood pressure in African-American customers can help 10-20 percent of them better control it.