High Blood Pressure Is More Prevalent

But Research Shows More Americans Are Aware They Have Hypertension

Medically Reviewed by Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC on October 13, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 13, 2008 -- The bad news is that an increasingly high percentage of Americans have hypertension, or high blood pressure. The increase is due at least in part to the obesity epidemic. The good news is that a bigger percentage of people with hypertension are aware that they have the condition.

The findings are from a new study published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which evaluates a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population. Information about participants is obtained through interviews and physical examinations.

Researchers compared data gathered between 1988 and 1994 with data gathered between 1999 and 2004. The first group included 16,351 participants, and the second group included 14,430 participants. All participants were at least 18 years old.

The prevalence rate for hypertension rose from 24.4% in the 1988-1994 group to 28.9% in the 1999-2004 group. The study looked at trends in different race and gender groups. The prevalence rate for hypertension increased the most in non-Hispanic women.

Across the board, obesity contributed to higher rates of hypertension. Depending on race and gender, between one-fifth and four-fifths of the increases could be attributed to increases in body mass index.

There was some good news. Awareness increased among participants with high blood pressure, climbing from 68.5% awareness to 71.8%. Women continued to have higher rates of awareness, though men narrowed the margin somewhat. Treatment rates also increased from 53.1% to 61.4%, and control rates were also better -- increasing from 26.1% to 35.1%.

"Our success with hypertension treatment and control, while considerable, is far from ideal," Jeffrey A. Cutler, MD, lead author of the study and a consultant to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's divisions of prevention and population sciences and cardiovascular diseases, says in a news release. "Most importantly, we have to do a better job of prevention."

In an accompanying editorial, Theodore A. Kotchen, MD, professor of medicine and epidemiology and associate dean for clinical research at the Medical College of Wisconsin, writes: "From both population and patient care perspectives, the analysis ... provides added impetus for preventing obesity and encouraging weight loss for the overweight as strategies for hypertension prevention. This is particularly relevant because the prevalence of childhood obesity has increased several fold in the past decade."

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Cutler, J. Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association, 2008.

News release, American Heart Association.

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