A new study finds the number of people with hypertension has doubled over the last 30 years to 1.28 billion, mostly in developing countries.
The study led by Imperial College London and the World Health Organization is the first comprehensive global analysis of trends in hypertension prevalence, detection, treatment and control.
Data from more than 100 million people aged 30 to 79 in 184 countries showed that more than 700 million people with hypertension, a life-threatening illness, go untreated. Most do so because they are undiagnosed and do not know they have this condition.
Bente Mikkelsen, director of WHO’s department of noncommunicable diseases, said lack of knowledge can have deadly consequences.
"First of all," Mikkelsen said, "we know that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of deaths. In the last global health estimates, we know that 17.1 million people are dying from cardiovascular diseases every year. And we know that hypertension is the main reason among those.”
Hypertension significantly increases the risk of heart, brain and kidney diseases and is a leading cause of death worldwide. Major risk factors include unhealthy diets, lack of physical activity, consumption of tobacco and alcohol, and obesity, regarded by some as the tsunami of risk factors.
Besides advocating healthy lifestyles, authors of the report say hypertension can be easily detected by measuring blood pressure and often can be effectively treated with low-cost medications.
Over the past three decades, the study found, the burden of hypertension has shifted from wealthy nations to low-and-middle-income countries. Majid Ezzati, professor of global environmental health at Imperial College London, said that while hypertension has decreased in wealthy nations, it has increased in many of the poorer countries.
"So many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, parts of South Asia, some of the Pacific Island nations, they are still not actually getting the treatment that is needed," Ezzati said. "So, in an era that we are focusing a lot on equity in treatment — and again, this is something that we have been hearing every day for the past year and a half, inequity in diagnosis, inequity in treatment — this is again something that as a global health community we need to be aware of.”
The study found treatment rates in these regions were below 25 percent for women and 20 percent for men. In comparison, it reported that more than 70 percent of men and women with hypertension in Canada, Iceland and South Korea were likely to receive medication to effectively treat and control this serious medical condition.