Nearly 1 in 3 in U.S. has high blood pressure

Aging population, rise in obesity likely factors

August 24, 2004|By Roni Rabin | Roni Rabin,NEWSDAY

The number of Americans with high blood pressure has increased to 65 million from 50 million a decade ago, driven by the aging of the population and possibly aggravated by the increase in obesity, a new study says.

Almost one in three American adults has this stealth condition, which produces virtually no symptoms while wreaking havoc on the cardiovascular system and threatening the kidneys, the study found. The increase has vast implications for public health, since hypertension - long dubbed a "silent killer" - increases the risk of death or disability from stroke, heart disease and kidney failure.

The number of Americans with high blood pressure has increased by 30 percent because the population has grown and people are living longer; the percentage of people rose less drastically, from 28.9 percent in 1988-1994 to 31.3 percent in 1999-2000. The study, published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nevertheless, Dr. Jeffrey A. Cutler, one of the study's authors, said the growth is real.

"It's real, and we'd rather see it going down ... . That's the bad news," said Cutler, senior scientific adviser with the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, who said the higher prevalence was likely associated with the rise in obesity.

"The good news is that people are living longer with their hypertension," Cutler said. "More people are being treated, and those who are being treated have their condition under better control."

The risk of hypertension increases with age - "If you live long enough, you're highly likely to develop hypertension," Cutler said - but recent studies have also documented a disconcerting trend toward higher blood pressure among children.

Nine million of the 65 million Americans with high blood pressure are African-Americans, who suffer disproportionately from the chronic condition.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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