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Blood pressure rising globally

More than 1.5-billion people will have high blood pressure by 2025, experts say.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 15, 2007


WASHINGTON - The numbers are a shock: Almost 1-billion people worldwide have high blood pressure, and more than half a billion more will harbor this silent killer by 2025.

It's not just a problem for the ever-fattening Western world. Even in parts of Africa, high blood pressure is becoming common.

That translates into millions of deaths from heart disease alone. Yet hypertension doesn't command the attention of, say, bird flu, which so far has killed fewer than 200 people.

"Hypertension has gone a bit out of fashion, " said Dr. Jan Ostergren of Sweden's Karolinska University Hospital, who co-authored a first-of-its-kind analysis of the global impact of high blood pressure.

The idea: to rev up world governments to fight bad blood pressure just as countries have banded together in the past to fight infectious diseases.

High blood pressure is a leading cause of strokes and kidney failure and it plays a role in blindness and even dementia. Patients seldom notice symptoms until organs are damaged.

Yet treating high blood pressure before that happens is a medical best-buy. Improving diet and exercise can help. When that's not enough, blood pressure drugs are among the oldest and thus cheapest on the market - 21 cents a day for a leading diuretic.

Ostergren joined experts from the London School of Economics and the State University of New York to assemble two teams of specialists and map what they call the coming crisis of hypertension: 1.56-billion people are expected to have it by 2025.

With funding from drug maker Novartis Pharma AG, they're providing copies to governments and health officials around the globe; a briefing in Washington is set for Thursday.

The report essentially calls for a cultural change. In some regions, "it's sort of an insult to your manhood if you have to take a blood-pressure medicine, " said Dr. Michael Weber, report co-author, citing estimates that hypertension affects about one in three adults in Mexico, Paraguay and Venezuela.

Normal blood pressure is measured at less than 120 over 80. High blood pressure is measured at 140 over 90 or more. Being overweight and inactive, and eating too much salt, all increase the risk. So does getting older.