May 25, 2010 -- Half of Americans with high blood pressure now have the condition under control, but more and more Americans are coming down with the dangerous condition.
For a long time, it didn't look as though Americans would reach the U.S. Healthy People 2010 goal of having 50% of people control their high blood pressure. Only 27.3% of people with hypertension -- the medical term for high blood pressure -- controlled it between 1988 and 1994.
But now, Brent M. Egan, MD, and colleagues at the University of South Carolina report that by 2007-2008, 50.1% of Americans with hypertension got their blood pressure below 140/90.
It's "cause for celebration," says Boston University researcher Aram Chobanian, MD. But Chobanian cuts the festivities short by quickly observing that more than 30% of Americans have high blood pressure and at least 30% more have prehypertension, which also increases risk of heart disease.
The Egan study's sobering second finding is that more Americans have high blood pressure than ever before.
High Blood Pressure Treatment: Drugs vs. Lifestyle Change
What's going on? Researchers variously blame obesity for as little as 20% and as much as 80% of high blood pressure. And unless you never read health news, you already know that about a third of Americans are obese.
This means even the good news about hypertension control is shaded by some bad news. The best way to lower high blood pressure is to lose weight and exercise more. But Egan and colleagues find no evidence that weight loss or exercise had anything to do with the nation's improved blood pressure control.
Instead, the reason seems to be improved medical treatment.
"The availability of a broad array of effective anti-hypertensive drugs with excellent tolerability has made treatment easier than in the past," Chobanian says. "Major changes toward healthier lifestyles have not occurred in the United States ... and would not appear responsible for the observed improvement."
And even this armamentarium of new drugs has a dark side, according to a study by Stanford University researcher Randall S. Stafford, MD, PhD, and colleagues.