MONDAY, Dec. 11, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- More Americans, especially the elderly, now have their blood pressure under control, a new study finds.
"It is hard to attribute the improvement to any particular factor," said study author Bernard M.Y. Cheung, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Hong Kong. His report appears in the Dec. 12 issue of Hypertension. "We have tried to see if the explanation lies in better awareness, detection or treatment. There is no statistically significant increase in these, so probably all of these contribute in a small way."
Whatever the reason, the numbers from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004, which include more than 14,500 people, tell an encouraging story. Hypertension -- high blood pressure -- is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney failure. In the study, blood pressure was regarded as being under control at a reading below 140/90, or 130/80 for people with diabetes.
From 1999-2000 and 2003-2004, the percentage of Americans aged 60 and older who met those criteria rose from 26.4 percent to 36.7 percent, the study found. Awareness of the importance of blood pressure control rose from 70.6 percent to 81 percent, and treatment rates improved from 63.8 percent to 73.4 percent.
Improvement in some specific groups was notable. Control rates for obese people rose from 25.1 percent to 36.2 percent, and more than doubled for people with diabetes, from 15.7 percent to 33.2 percent.
But there were some dark spots in the picture. A quarter of those with high blood pressure were unaware they had it, and about a third of those with high blood pressure were not being treated in 2003-2004.
"We found that adults below the age of 40 often do not know they have hypertension, whereas awareness of hypertension is high among the elderly," Cheung said. "This is unfortunate, because hypertension in the younger age group is relatively easy to control."
What is needed to improve the picture is "getting everyone, including those who are young and without symptoms, to be screened for high blood pressure," he said.
The report was called "great news" by Dr. Henry Black, president-elect of the American Society on Hypertension and a professor of preventive medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
"What we've been doing for the last half-dozen years has been working," Black said.
What is needed now "is more of the same," Black said. "We've got to get the population a little thinner and a little more active. And we want to treat people at lower levels of hypertension more aggressively, so they don't get into danger."
A guide to lowering high blood pressure is offered by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.