Nearly one in five Americans has high blood pressure. Yet less than half of them are taking the proper medication, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hypertension is the nation’s leading risk factor for stroke, heart attack and kidney disease. Of the 45.7 million Americans with hypertension, only 31.8 million are taking prescribed medication, according to the report, which was published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
More than half of the people in the United States with hypertension are undiagnosed, according to the findings.
The study results provide new evidence on patients and their doctors’ efforts to treat high blood pressure, which has become increasingly stigmatized as an unhealthy trait more commonly associated with young, affluent people.
“For years we’ve tried to help people learn about hypertension and the fact that we have an effective treatment option that’s as simple as a pill,” said Dr. Deborah Glaser, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. Glaser was not involved in the new study.
But she said that for many of her patients, having their blood pressure checked is just a “checkup.”
“The physicians are not doing high blood pressure detection in the patients,” Glaser said. “For patients, that checkup can be kind of feeling hopeless, not knowing why they are having these high numbers, or maybe even feeling ashamed.”
One other problem could be the difficulty many people have in seeing a doctor for a regular checkup. Even when the purpose of a physical is to screen for hypertension, many people don’t make that call, according to Dr. Dan George, an endocrinologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
“When they do that checkup, they might take a test that says they have low pressure,” George said. “But if you had a normal test with a normal F pressure, you might feel that you shouldn’t need to take your medication, and that’s one thing that can compromise your blood pressure.”
George said the study provides “further evidence” that treating hypertension is difficult in the United States.
“There is tremendous progress worldwide,” he said. “However, it is not enough. We have this crisis.”
The nation’s overall mortality rate from any cause is declining, but there’s a lot of variation among different age groups. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death and stroke continues to be the second-leading cause of death, George said.
“The mortality rate has come down, but it remains high enough to continue to make us rethink healthcare in this country,” he said.
Glaser said there are improvements to make to improve the care of those with high blood pressure, especially because an effective and affordable drug regimen hasn’t made it to the market yet.
An estimated 41 million people in the United States are on prescription opioid painkillers for chronic back, joint, or general arthritis pain, according to a September report from the Treatment Advocacy Center. About 60 percent of them are taking more than one medication, the study showed.
“As many people are prescribed opioid pain medication, the current therapies for high blood pressure are not being used,” Glaser said. “What I think will happen is we’ll get a game-changing drug that can improve control of high blood pressure and hopefully patients will stay on it and that will increase the effectiveness of these other medications.”
The same study found that the prevalence of hypertension has dropped in four states: Minnesota, Maryland, Hawaii and Massachusetts. It has risen in 33 states.
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