WASHINGTON (AP) - A critical new report declares high blood
pressure in the U.S. to be a neglected disease - a term that
usually describes mysterious tropical illnesses, not a well-known
plague of rich countries.
The prestigious Institute of Medicine said Monday that even
though nearly one in three adults has hypertension, and it's on the
rise, fighting it apparently has fallen out of fashion: Doctors too
often don't treat it aggressively, and the government hasn't made
it enough of a priority, either.
Yet high blood pressure, the nation's second-leading cause of
death, is relatively simple to prevent and treat, the institute
"There's that incredible disconnect," said Dr. David Fleming,
Seattle-King County's public health director and chairman of the
IOM committee that examined how to trim the toll.
"In our country, if you live long enough, you're almost
guaranteed to get hypertension, so this is something we should all
be concerned about," added report co-author Dr. Corinne Husten of
the nonprofit Partnership for Prevention.
This is not rocket science, the report makes clear: Cut the
salt. Eat more potassium. Get some exercise. Drop 10 pounds. Those
steps could make a big difference in how many people suffer high
blood pressure - 73 million at last count. Another 59 million are
on the brink, with blood pressure hovering at levels officially
So the institute urged the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention to push doctors to better treat hypertension, and to
work with communities to make it easier for people to live the
healthy lifestyles that can prevent it.
Hypertension competed with other disorders for the $54 million
that CDC spent on heart disease and stroke prevention last year,
while it cost the health care system at least $73 billion, the
High blood pressure is sinister because it's silent. People
seldom notice symptoms until their organs already have been
damaged. Hypertension triggers more than one-third of heart
attacks, is a leading cause of strokes and kidney failure, and
plays a role in blindness and even dementia.
Normal blood pressure is measured at less than 120 over 80.
Anyone can get high blood pressure, a level of 140 over 90 or more.
But leading risk factors are getting older, being overweight and
inactive, and having a poor diet.
Among the committee's findings:
-Too many doctors ignore hypertension if only the top number in
a blood pressure reading - the systolic pressure - is high. That's
contrary to treatment guidelines.
-Too little potassium and too much sodium fuel high blood
pressure, and only 2 percent of adults eat enough potassium, which
is found in fruits and vegetables.
-CDC should work with food makers to lower the sodium hidden
inside processed foods, our main source of sodium. The average
adult is thought to eat about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day; the
recommended daily limit is 2,300 mg.
-If everyone who is overweight lost 10 pounds, the nation's
hypertension cases could drop 8 percent.
-The government should work with insurers to reduce or eliminate
copayments for blood pressure medications, and with drug companies
to simplify patient-assistance programs for the poor.
The Institute of Medicine is part of the National Academies, an
independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the
government on scientific matters.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)