More Americans have blood pressure under control

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We’re a stressed out society, and between the faltering economy and juggling the pressures of everyday life, it’s no wonder that 65 million of Americans suffer from hypertension.

High blood pressure is a combined product of stress, obesity, a high sodium diet, and some genetic factors that keep the pressure on blood vessels dangerously high. Hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and is often a by product of obesity. But according to the latest figures released in the Journal of the American Medical Association by researchers from University of South Carolina, there is finally some good news on the b.p. front — as a nation, we’ve actually reached our Healthy People 2010 goal of having blood pressure under control in 50% of the population with hypertension.

The authors compared national health data from two sets of surveys, one from 1988-1994 and another from 1999-2008 that included information on 42,856 individuals, a fraction of whom recorded blood pressure greater than 140/90 mm Hg, which the researchers considered as high b.p. for the purposes of the study. (Anything below that was considered to be blood pressure under control.)

Overall rates of hypertension rose between the 1988-1994 and  1999-2000 periods, from 23.9% to 28.5%, and then remained relatively stable until 2007-2008. In that same study period between 1998 and 2008, however, the proportion of people who got their hypertension under control increased from 27.3% to 50.1%, just eking past the Healthy People 2010 goal of 50% control.

The scientists point to increased awareness of hypertension and its health effects among subjects, which was reflected by a greater percentage of individuals acknowledging the importance of controlling their blood pressure as time went on, as well as a larger proportion of patients who were successfully treated for their condition. The bulk of the improvement in controlling hypertension came in the latter years, after 1999.

While the findings are certainly encouraging, the authors note that there are still significant obstacles to achieving healthy blood pressures on a population-wide basis. The fact that overall rates of hypertension have plateaued, rather than begun to drop, suggests that the causes of high blood pressure — all that stress and unhealthy eating — remain unaddressed. That, coupled with the fact that most of the hypertension picked up in the survey was controlled not by lifestyle changes but by medication also hints at the need to focus not just on bringing blood pressure under control, but in preventing it from creeping up in the first place.

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