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WHO: High Blood Pressure a Silent Killer

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan is seen speaking at the World Health Assembly in Geneva in this May 21, 2012, file photo.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan is seen speaking at the World Health Assembly in Geneva in this May 21, 2012, file photo.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than one in three adults, or about one billion people, is affected by high blood pressure. To mark World Health Day (Sunday, April 7), WHO is promoting the many steps people can take to reduce the risk of dying prematurely from what it calls a silent killer.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan led a tribute today to celebrate the founding of the World Health Organization on April 7, 1948. Every year, World Health Day marks this event by highlighting a public health issue.

This year’s theme is hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, one of the most important contributors to heart disease and stroke. Chan says the effects of the condition create a global health crisis.

“Hyper-pressure contributes to nearly 9.4 million deaths due to heart disease and stroke every year and, together, these two diseases are the number one cause of death worldwide. And, hyper-pressure also increases the risk of kidney failure, blindness and several other conditions. It often occurs together with other risk factors like obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol - increasing the health risk even further.”

Overall, WHO reports high-income countries have a lower prevalence of hypertension than low-and-middle income countries. It says the prevalence of this disease is highest in Africa, where nearly half of all adults have hypertension. The lowest is found in the Americas.

Preventable and treatable

The World Health Organization notes high blood pressure is preventable and treatable once it is detected. It is urging all adults around the world to get their blood pressure measured so they can take steps to control it.

WHO Chief Chan says high blood pressure must be taken seriously.

“It is a strong and reliable warning signal that health is at risk and that something needs to be done. But, hyper-pressure, ladies and gentlemen, is always a silent warning signal. What do I mean by that? Usually hyper-pressure does not show any symptoms for years or even decades…. So, it is important that we take advantage of the early warning signal by taking our blood pressure regularly.”

WHO says people can cut the risks of high blood pressure by consuming less salt, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco use and overindulgence in alcohol. If these life-style changes do not work, WHO says low-cost medication to treat the illness is available.