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Global High Blood Pressure Epidemic Foreseen

Health groups are warning of a coming international epidemic of high blood pressure that will trigger an upsurge in heart disease, strokes, and kidney failure if not controlled. A report by prestigious U.S. and European academic institutions calls for action by governments and healthcare organizations to stem a health condition that grips a large proportion of the global population. VOA's David McAlary reports from Washington.

High blood pressure is called the silent killer because a person cannot feel it. Yet hypertension can damage blood vessels, causing heart attacks, strokes, dementia and kidney disease.

A report by experts at the State University of New York, the London School of Economics, and the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm says the condition affects one-fourth of humanity and is estimated to kill more than seven million people each year. If nothing is done, the report predicts high blood pressure incidence will increase 60 percent by 2025, afflicting more than one-and-a-half billion people.

"There are two sorts of people as far as hypertension is concerned. There are those people who have hypertension and those who are going to get it," says State University of New York physician Michael Weber, a co-author of the report, speaking at a Washington briefing. "Everyone in the end will have high blood pressure, well over 90 percent us if we live long enough. That's because we live in a society where out diet, our mode of activity, and perhaps our genetics determine that, in the end, our arteries will harden and our blood pressures will increase."

A member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Donna Christensen, says this is true both in industrial nations and in developing countries that are adopting the Western lifestyle.

"There is major concern about the projected increases in developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, Turkey, and the central European states. Its morbidity and mortality is underrecognized here and elsewhere. We are at the not-so-early stages of another major global health crisis," she said.

The new report says if estimates prove correct, 75 percent of people with high blood pressure will be in developing countries, with a potential cost of countless billions of dollars from death and disability.

The American Heart Association says more than a third of the people in the United States have it at a cost $66 billion to the economy this year alone.

The report recommends five actions for governments, health organizations and practitioners, and professional societies: recognize hypertension as a global epidemic, agree on standards for controlling it, improve preventive measures at the community level, educate the public about it, and conduct studies to measure the costs and benefits of aggressively fighting it.

Although reducing hypertension prevalence would save money from fewer deaths and less disability, Dr. Weber warns that it will not necessary cut health care costs. People who would otherwise die from hypertension-induced strokes or heart attacks would live to eventually get the expensive ailments of aging, such as cancer. And he says fighting high blood pressure will itself cost money.

"We do have to pay for it. The good news is you get good value for your dollar. You're going to be living longer and living better," said Dr. Weber.