Health

More than 14 million people don't know they have high blood pressure: CDC

Sept. 4, 2012, 4:16 p.m.

In a new report released Tuesday, the federal government said more than 35 million Americans don't have their hypertension under control. (rosmary/Flickr Creative Commons)


Nearly one-third of U.S. adults surveyed between 2003 and 2010 had hypertension (high blood pressure), according to new statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday.

The report noted that less than half of those with hypertension –  31.1 million people – have the condition under control.

Uncontrolled hypertension was defined by the agency as an average systolic blood pressure equal to or greater than 140 mmHg, or an average diastolic blood pressure equal to or greater than 90 mmHg.

The CDC put the 35.8 million people with uncontrolled hypertension into three categories:

– those who were unaware of their condition (14.1 million people)
– those who were aware of their condition but hadn't treated it yet (5. 7 million people)
– and those who were both aware of their condition and had treated it (16 million).

Interestingly, a large majority of those with uncontrolled hypertension (89 percent) had a reliable source of health care. Similar proportions had received medical care during the previous year (88 percent) and had health insurance (85 percent).

CDC researchers wrote that this data indicates "potential missed opportunities by individuals, health-care providers, and health-care systems to improve hypertension control."

Dr. Jeffrey Brettler, the chief of internal medicine and assistant area medical director at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center, says the CDC's assessment is "pretty well-established."

Echoing the agency, Brettler said a lack of awareness is a major issue. "One of the most important things is to have everybody's blood pressure measured so we can truly quantify everyone who has hypertension or pre-hypertension," he said.

Education and communication is particularly crucial with patients, added the doctor, especially those who may be "reluctant to take medications." Hypertension control often requires taking more than one medication on a regular basis. Making lifestyle changes involving diet and physical activity is "equally important."

Patients usually aren't diagnosed with hypertension until providers have gotten "several readings that are elevated" that doctors can't attribute to extenuating circumstances, like pain, for example.

Once folks are diagnosed, they'd do well to follow doctors' orders and stay on their medication. Brettler says studies show patients are often concerned that doing so will negatively impact their quality of life.

"Quality of life is improved on medication," he said. "Most of the time, hypertension can be asymptomatic, but often there are big symptoms." Those can include headaches, lightheadedness and simply not feeling well.

But Brettler says the complications caused by hypertension are the real cause for concern – those include heart disease, heart failure, heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease.

"Everybody's vulnerable," he said. "There is quite a bit of data around particularly vulnerable populations: [the] elderly and African-Americans. We know that as we age, our blood pressure increases. Even if you're at a normal blood pressure at age 55, studies show that over the next 20 years or so, 90 percent of those patients will have developed hypertension."

As far as the black community, Brettler said there is a "disparity gap": Hypertension is nearly 15 percent more prevalent among black people than it is among white people, and control rates are anywhere between 10 to 15 percent lower for black people.

As such, complications are much higher in both communities.

Brettler said anyone who doesn't definitely know whether they have hypertension ought to get tested. Doing so doesn't require a visit to the doctor's office, though – you can do it from your living room with a home-testing kit.

"[Those results] may be more reflective of long-term risk than office visits," said Brettler.

(And keep in mind – if your results show up as anything other than normal, that does call – urgently – for a visit to the doctor's office or your local community health clinic.)

Brettler also said the machines that drugstores will sometimes provide for shoppers to check their blood pressure tend to work well.

WebMD has some things to keep in mind when self-checking your blood pressure, as well as what kind of results may indicate hypertension or prehypertension, here.

Photo by rosmary via Flickr Creative Commons.

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