The Silent Killer – Hypertension on the Rise

“The number of adults with hypertension more than doubled from 1995 to 2005. The age- and sex-adjusted prevalence increased from 153.1 per 1000 adults in 1995 to 244.8 per 1000 in 2005, which was a relative increase of 60 per cent,” says an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

The article was discussing public health strategies to prevent and manage hypertension and its consequences in Ontario, the most populous province in Canada. I think the problem of hypertension is no different in the rest of Canada and the U.S.

Articles in the CMAJ reported marked improvement in the diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure. This may explain the increase in the prevalence of hypertension which may represent an increase in the detection of hypertension rather than a true increase in its incidence.

It is estimated that a middle-aged man with normal blood pressure has 90 per cent risk of becoming hypertensive. That is scary.

The consequences of high blood pressure are severe. Nearly two-thirds of all cases of stroke and one-half of all cases of coronary heart disease are directly related to hypertension. What is scarier is that most cases of hypertension either go undiagnosed or untreated. That is why it is called a silent killer. You may have high blood pressure but may not have any symptoms.

For example, in U.S., studies show that only 37 per cent of hypertensive patients were treated and adequate control of blood pressure achieved. Comparative studies from Europe indicate that less than 25 per cent of people with hypertension receive adequate treatment. In Canada, 1985–1992 Canadian Heart Health Survey reported a treatment and control rate of only 13 per cent.

One of the most important findings reported in one of the studies from Ontario is the remarkable improvement in hypertension management. The study reported hypertension awareness rate of 87 per cent, treatment rate of 82 per cent and treatment and control rate of 66 per cent. These numbers are by far the highest from any population-based study, says one of the CMAJ article.

The study also revealed that South Asian and female black Canadians had a disproportionately high prevalence of hypertension. This means intervention programs should be targeted to such groups at community and individual levels. They also found that one in three adults with hypertension did not have blood pressure control.

Diabetic patients with hypertension have a high risk for cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, two-thirds of these patients did not have blood pressure control and that over one-quarter had received no treatment. If these patients receive intensive treatment for high blood pressure then this actually saves the health care system money as well as prevents death and disability, says one of the articles.

As they say, prevention is better than cure. You can reduce the risk of hypertension by 50 per cent by maintaining healthy weight and exercising daily. Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables also helps. Have your blood pressure checked when you visit your doctor. Common symptoms of hypertension to look out for include recurring headaches, dizziness, confusion, unexplainable nosebleeds, and vision problems.

Bare your arm for blood pressure measurement next time you visit your doctor.

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