Nearly 1 billion people worldwide have high blood pressure,
and that number is expected to increase to 1.56 billion people by
2025, a new study predicts.
The estimates come from pooled data of 30 population-based
studies involving more than 700,000 people from different regions
of the world, according to a report published in
The greatest increase is expected in underdeveloped regions such
as Africa and Latin America, said study author Dr. Jaing He,
chairman and a professor of epidemiology at the Tulane University
School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
"The increased incidence of high blood pressure, a major risk
factor for heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular
conditions, is an ironic byproduct of Westernization, which enables
people to live longer but can also lead to unhealthy lifestyles,"
he said. "The world population is getting older, and older people
have a much higher risk of hypertension [high blood pressure]."
The report found that 333 million adults in economically
developed regions such as North America and Europe had high blood
pressure in 2000, with an additional 639 million people in
developing countries having the condition. The prevalence is
predicted to increase by 24% in developed countries and 80% in
developing countries, the study said. "The best way to reduce the
incidence of high blood pressure is to create national and
international programs that concentrate on healthy lifestyle
changes," Dr. Jaing He said.
"Health policymakers need to pay attention to hypertension. They
should promote a low-sodium diet, physical activity and adequate
fruit and vegetable intake," according to Jaing He.
While medicines can help control high blood pressure, the most
important factor will be lifestyle changes. "Hypertension has been
an emerging global problem for some time," said Dr. James W. Reed,
a professor of medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta,
and a board member of the International Society on Hypertension in
Blacks. "We have been going around the world trying to do something
about it for the past 19 years," Reed said. "We have had campaigns
in African countries such as Kenya, and also in South America and
But, Reed said, "there is no way we could have a budget large
enough to do what has to be done. Someone like the World Health
Organization has to take the initiative."
We need a global strategy for addressing the issue, according
to Reed. "Medication can help, but there is no way to make enough
medication to meet the need. Some of the things we are doing to
ourselves in terms of the way we live have more impact than any
medication." Another report in the same issue of the journal
singled out a medical risk factor for one hypertension-related
problem--stroke. Researchers at University College London said they
have linked an increased risk of stroke to high blood levels of the
amino acid homocysteine.
Previous studies have uncovered such a relationship, but those
findings were clouded by other risk factors, such as smoking and
socioeconomic class. The new study steered clear of those factors
by looking at a gene that controls blood levels of homocysteine.
Persons with a gene that gives them a higher blood level of
homocysteine have an increased incidence of stroke, the researchers
Homocysteine levels can be reduced by daily doses of folic acid. But a large-scale study is needed to determine whether folic acid supplements can reduce the incidence of stroke, the researchers said.
SOURCES: Jaing He, M.D., Ph.D, chairman and professor,
epidemiology, Tulane University School of Public Health and
Tropical Medicine, New Orleans; James W. Reed, professor, medicine,
Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta; Jan. 15, 2005,
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