Most people with hypertension don’t feel any symptom, that’s why they are not aware of their condition. In its first-ever report released Tuesday on the devastating global impact of high blood pressure and ways to stop it, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the number of people living with hypertension (blood pressure of 140/90 or higher or taking medication for hypertension) doubled between 1990 and 2019, from 650 million to 1.3 billion. Nearly half of them do not know their condition.
The WHO report said four out of every five people with hypertension are not adequately treated. More than three-quarters of adults with hypertension live in low- and middle-income countries. And if governments can scale up treatment, 76 million deaths could be averted between 2023 and 2050.
Hypertension affects one in three adults worldwide. This common, deadly condition leads to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney damage and many other health problems, the report said. Older age and genetics can increase the risk of having high blood pressure, but modifiable risk factors such as eating high salt diet, not being physically active and drinking too much alcohol can also increase the risk of hypertension.
“Hypertension can be controlled effectively with simple, low-cost medication regimens, and yet only about one in five people with hypertension have controlled it,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Hypertension control programs remain neglected, under-prioritized and vastly underfunded. Strengthening hypertension control must be part of every country’s journey towards universal health coverage, based on well-functioning, equitable and resilient health systems, built on a foundation of primary health care.”
Lifestyle changes like eating a healthier diet, quitting tobacco and being more active can help lower blood pressure. Some people may need medicines that can control hypertension effectively and prevent related complications. The report said prevention, early detection and effective management of hypertension are among the most cost-effective interventions in health care and should be prioritized by countries as part of their national health benefit package offered at primary care level. The economic benefits of improved hypertension treatment programs outweigh the costs by about 18 to one.
“Most heart attacks and strokes in the world today can be prevented with affordable, safe, accessible medicines and other interventions, such as sodium reduction,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries. “Treating hypertension through primary health care will save lives, while also saving billions of dollars a year.”
The report underscores the importance of implementing WHO-recommended effective hypertension care to save lives. Hypertension can easily be treated with safe, widely available, low-cost generic medications using programs such as HEARTS. WHO’s HEARTS technical package for cardiovascular disease management in primary health care and the Guideline for the pharmacological treatment of hypertension in adults provide proven and practical steps to deliver effective hypertension care in primary health care settings, the report said.
Effective community- and country-wide blood pressure management can be achieved in countries of all income levels. More than 40 low- and middle-income countries, including Bangladesh, Cuba, India and Sri Lanka, have strengthened their hypertension care with the HEARTS package, enrolling more than 17 million people into treatment programs. Countries such as Canada and South Korea delivered comprehensive national hypertension treatment programs, and both countries surpassed the 50 percent mark for blood pressure control in adults living with hypertension. Sustained, systematic national hypertension control programs can succeed—and a high level of blood pressure control translates into fewer strokes and heart attacks, and longer, healthier lives.
“Every hour, more than 1,000 people die from strokes and heart attacks. Most of these deaths are caused by high blood pressure, and most could have been prevented,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, president and CEO of WHO partner Resolve to Save Lives. “Good hypertension care is affordable, within reach, and strengthens primary health care. The challenge now is to go from ‘within reach’ to ‘reached.’ This will require commitment of governments around the world.”
The WHO report said an increase in the number of patients effectively treated for hypertension to levels observed in high-performing countries could prevent 76 million deaths, 120 million strokes, 79 million heart attacks, and 17 million cases of heart failure between now and 2050. Regularly measuring your blood pressure is the only way for you to have a clearer picture of your risk for heart disease and stroke.