One in three people with hypertension are unaware they have it, increasing their health risks

Washington, D.C., 15 May 2014 (PAHO/WHO) — On World Hypertension Day, May 17, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is urging people to get their blood pressure checked regularly to prevent heart attacks and stroke.

The theme of World Hypertension Day is "Know your numbers," highlighting the importance of getting regular blood pressure checks and understanding that a reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher means hypertension. PAHO/WHO estimates that in the Americas, 30% of people with high blood pressure are unaware they have the condition.

"Hypertension is a silent killer because in its early stages it rarely causes symptoms, and many people go undiagnosed," said Pedro Orduñez, PAHO/WHO advisor on noncommunicable diseases. "Diagnosing and treating it on time can reduce the risk of heart attacks, stroke and kidney failure."

As blood pressure increases, so do the health risks. When blood pressure is high, the heart has to pump harder, increasing the risk of damage to the heart and to blood vessels in major organs such as the brain and kidneys.

"All adults should know their blood pressure levels. If they have hypertension, they should seek advice from a health professional," said Orduñez, adding, "Healthy lifestyles can help prevent hypertension, and for people who need medication, it can improve control."

Treatment of complications from hypertension can be costly and invasive, such as cardiac bypass surgery and dialysis. The costs can weigh heavily on individuals, families and societies.

80% of heart attacks and stroke are preventable

An estimated 80% of premature heart attacks and stroke can be prevented by reducing the leading risk factors for these conditions: unhealthy diet, tobacco consumption, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity. Overweight and obesity and excess salt consumption—the single most important risk factor for hypertension—also increase one's risk.

Low socioeconomic level and difficulties accessing health services and medications also increase people's vulnerability to major cardiovascular events, due to uncontrolled hypertension.

In addition to checking blood pressure, people also need to have their blood glucose and lipids checked to assess their related risks for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Studies show that high blood pressure contributes to some 9.4 million cardiovascular deaths worldwide each year. In the Americas, 1.9 million people die yearly from cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in most of the region's countries.

Reducing high blood pressure in the population also requires environments that facilitate healthy eating, physical activity and universal access to health care.

To improve outcomes in patients with hypertension, countries can strengthen prevention, increase healthcare coverage, and reduce hardship associated with high out-of-pocket spending for health services and medicines.

In 2013, WHO dedicated World Health Day to the problem of high blood pressure, and PAHO called on people to "Know your numbers," that is, to get regular blood pressure checks. The World Hypertension League chose the same theme for this year's World Hypertension Day.

Hypertension around the world (source: WHO 2008):

  • 17.3 million people died from cardiovascular disease in 2008, 9.4 million of them had complications of hypertension
  • 80% of noncommunicable disease deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries
  • Hypertension is responsible for at least 45% of global deaths from heart disease and 51% of deaths from stroke
  • Globally, an estimated 40% of adults over 25 have hypertension.
  • The highest estimated prevalence of hypertension is found in Africa (46% of adults over 25) and the lowest is in the Americas (35%).