Nearly one in five adults in the United States (19.4 percent) now have hypertension, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released Wednesday.
Hypertension is a medical condition that increases blood pressure and can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and other serious health problems.
The condition affects adults of all ethnicities and starts with the naturally elevated blood pressure of adults over age 45, which can eventually increase with weight gain, stress, being overweight or sedentary and other factors.
The 2017 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that overall, nearly 22 percent of US adults had high blood pressure.
Another significant finding was that 17.2 percent of men and 11.7 percent of women now have high blood pressure, according to the report.
Those numbers are up from 17.1 percent and 11.4 percent of men and women, respectively, in 2013.
The percentage of adults with high blood pressure who also were taking medication to control their condition went up from nearly 18 percent to almost 22 percent from 2013 to 2017.
There was a slight rise in the percentage of women who are also taking a drug to treat high blood pressure, from 12.5 percent to 13.3 percent. The percentage of men who took such a drug was unchanged.
The most common types of prescription drugs for treating high blood pressure included ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin-receptor blockers and calcium channel blockers. Some of these medications, including ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and angiotensin convert, were previously recommended in guidelines released in 2005 and 2009.
For the latest analysis, the CDC researchers reviewed information from both the previous 2005-2009 guidelines and updated 2017 guidelines.
Dr. Richard Wender, chief medical officer for the American Heart Association, called the update a “significant scientific step forward,” which reflects “great improvements in research and treatment.”
The new report included “a stronger set of data demonstrating that important treatment remains very effective,” Wender said.
Other findings included that one in four women and one in five men had at least one other risk factor for high blood pressure, such as diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure after age 45.
The study was published in the journal Hypertension.
Dr. Paul Martino, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, said that “high blood pressure is not just a man’s disease” but can affect both men and women, “potentially as early as infancy.”
“Prenatal and late childhood risk factors have been shown to persist into adulthood,” he said.
Regardless of age, however, hypertension risk factors should be addressed, which includes optimal weight for one’s height and physical activity, Martino said.
If a person is showing other warning signs, such as shortness of breath, excessive thirst or a combination of these symptoms and a history of diabetes, blood pressure medication may be recommended.
For diabetes, he said, “positive engagement in diabetes therapy is strongly recommended for controlling blood pressure and being more resilient against other risk factors in life.”
“The cardiovascular disease ‘silent killer’ is in need of a major dietary and behavioral overhaul,” Martino said.
Excess weight and sedentary lifestyles are key risk factors, he said, adding that “passive smoking is also emerging as a serious cardiovascular risk factor.”
Martino is the head of the University of North Carolina epidemiology and biostatistics graduate program and a co-author of the report.
At the stroke center at Duke University, Dr. Matthew Mieszkowski treats patients with acute stroke and also sees patients with vascular disease and depression. He said the new report indicates that the challenge to “control blood pressure and manage other risk factors, including sleep apnea and diabetes, is very significant for prevention and management” of stroke.
Researchers said it is hard to tell whether lowering the blood pressure “dry lip” medication, lorazepam, actually helped strokes in this study because people taking the drug showed no significant increase in stroke over the 12 months after they stopped taking it. However, some researchers have wondered whether lowering blood pressure using drugs that contain more dopamine, like lorazepam, leads to less adverse effects.
The problem with this study is that, because these patients took the drug to control high blood pressure, it is likely they are also taking other types of medication, including for conditions that require those types of drugs.
“The study subjects were sicker than others. We need more evidence to say, ‘This is what worked; this was the right thing to do,'” said Michael Walton, a neurologist at Duke.
Walton was not involved in the research.