As I read the current medical journals, I have to make use of a new “library” of terms that refer to our bodies’ genes, RNA messengers, proteins and enzymes, not to mention the generic names of the drugs meant to impact the molecular basis of disease. But as medical knowledge becomes more “micro,” we can’t discount the macro…the need for individuals to get basic screening, diagnosis and therapy of common disorders. There is no requirement for medical ten-dollar words to understand the recent “Vital Signs” article in JAMA. It was a report by the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC, documenting the prevalence, treatment and control of hypertension in the United States. Here are some of the stats that they reported, which could on their own make ones blood pressure go up by at least a few points. (I’m talking systolic here…)
- Every year, hypertension contributes to one out of seven deaths in the U.S. and tonearly half of all cardiovascular disease-related deaths (heart attack and stroke).Hypertension affects an estimated 68 million U.S. adults.
- If all individuals received adequate treatment for their hypertension, 46,000 deaths might be averted each year.
- Direct and indirect costs of hypertension are more than $93.5 billion per year
- Cardiovascular disease and stroke account for 17% of total health expenditures in the US annually
- Overall U.S prevalence of hypertension among adults after the age of 18 between 2005 and 2008 was 30.9% (and highest among persons at or older than 65). This prevalence has remained unchanged during the past 10 years.
- 30% of patients with hypertension are not being treated pharmacologically.
- Only 45.8% of those with hypertension have their blood pressure adequately controlled.
There are, of course, recommendations as to what should be done to deal with this pervasive disorder and the resultant disease. Blood pressure readings should be taken seriously (and regularly). Anyone who has a blood pressure that is 140/90 needs to consider medication and lifestyle changes. Physicians now think that blood pressure reductions below the threshold for clinical hypertension (115/75) can have health benefits over time. An analysis of over 61 prospective observational studies of blood pressure and mortality (you know the ones that follow large groups of individuals for years) have shown that for each 20 mmHG increase in usual systolic blood pressure (This is the top number in blood pressure readings and represents the pressure that your heart is exerting to get the blood to flow through your arteries) or 10mmHG increase in usual diastolic blood pressure (which represents the pressure of the vessels between heart beats) above 115/75 mmHG was associated with a doubling in stroke mortality and death from heart attack at ages 40 to 69.
Before I sound the “get thee medicated” alarm, let’s go over the behavioral changes that can impact blood pressure. They should be adopted by all of us. (I’m sure we all know them, but since the American Heart Association has made them official here they are: (1) achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight; (2) participating in regular leisure-time physical activity (and I don’t think shopping counts, unless you have to walk rapidly for a total of 30 minutes from store to store to car.) (3) adoption of a healthy diet, including reducing salt intake and increasing potassium intake; (4) smoking cessation; and (5) stress management) Note, the AHA gave no indication in this report as to how to do this and I’m not going to begin to tackle stress reduction in this “brief” newsletter. It would require a treatise in philosophy, psychology, economics and the 24-hour news cycle!
There are, of course, multiple pharmacologic therapies and frequently more than one is needed to achieve adequate blood pressure control. That’s where a physician’s knowledge and choices of medication are needed (as well as health insurance to help pay for access to the physician, appropriate follow-up and purchase of the medications… According to this CDC report, one of the groups with the lowest prevalence of blood pressure control consists of individuals without health insurance.)
Molecular biology may help us understand the whys, wherefores and potential treatments of disease. But unless we self-maintain our own health by eating right, moving our derrieres off the chair (I guess you should get off your computer, iPad or Blackberry where you are currently reading this admonition), adhere to prescribed medication and improve access to care, that “one in seven” (deaths due to hypertension) will continue.
Bottom line: Make sure your blood pressure is checked regularly and if elevated, even “a bit” (over 115/75) work on your lifestyle. If 140/90 or over, check with your physician as to your need for medication and adhere to whatever is prescribed. The pressures of life (and death) start with your own!