High blood pressure going untreated, researchers say

January 17, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Growing numbers of Americans may be refusing to treat their high blood pressure, a serious public health problem, researchers say.

"Blood pressure no longer is at the top of the national agenda," said Dr. Russell Luepker, head of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. He presented the report about failing compliance with blood pressure treatments on Sunday to a science writers' seminar for the American Heart Association.

In research that may reflect a national problem, Minnesota studies show that fewer men and women took blood pressure medicines in the early 1990s than in the early 1980s, Dr. Luepker said.

Women's use of medicine to control blood pressure declined even more than men's, a seeming contradiction given women's greater attention to their personal health needs.

"The trends are subtle here," Dr. Luepker said. "But I think I can . . . say that the treatment of blood pressure is not improving anymore."

Millions of Americans have high blood pressure. It's a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes and other medical problems.

High blood pressure means the heart must work harder than usual to pump blood. It can cause the heart to become enlarged PTC or gradually cause damage to the arteries, making it hard for the body to get an adequate supply of blood.

Dr. Luepker and Donald Morisky, a scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles, said more patients are ignoring blood pressure problems because:

* Doctors seem more interested in cholesterol than blood pressure, because there are more research grants available from drug companies for cholesterol studies.

* Many older patients are confused about taking several drugs for different problems.

* It's time-consuming to see doctors, so some people don't.

* Newer blood pressure drugs are expensive, and Medicare and other insurance plans do not routinely cover prescription drugs. Typically, these plans only pay doctor visits and surgery.

Newer medicines, called calcium channel blockers and ACE inhibitors, cost as much as $1 or more for a daily dose, Dr. Luepker said.

Generic equivalents of the newer drugs won't be available for at least several more years. Even then, "the price tends not to go down once costs are recouped by pharmaceutical companies for research and development," he said.

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