MONDAY, March 23, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- There's been a sharp increase in high blood pressure-related deaths in the United States, particularly in rural areas, a new study says.
Researchers analyzed data on more than 10 million U.S. deaths between 2007 and 2017 and found that death rates linked to high blood pressure (hypertension) rose 72% in rural areas and 20% in urban areas.
The increase was highest in the rural South, which had more than twice the rate of high blood pressure-related deaths than other regions. Age-adjusted rates increased in the rural South from nearly 24 deaths per 100,000 people in 2007 to 39.5 per 100,000 in 2017.
A combination of poor diet, high rates of obesity and diabetes, and a lack of access to health care may play a part in the regional differences, according to lead author Dr. Lakshmi Nambiar, a cardiovascular disease fellow at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine.
Public health measures that target some of these factors could help narrow regional gaps, she added.
The findings are scheduled to be presented March 28-30 at an online meeting of the American College of Cardiology. Findings presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
"This is a public health emergency that has not been fully recognized," Nambiar said in a meeting news release.
"Hypertension-related cardiovascular deaths are rising in the U.S. across all age groups, all regions and in both urban and rural populations. These findings are alarming and warrant further investigation, as well as preventative efforts," she added.
The findings contrast with recent declines in deaths due to coronary heart disease -- a trend linked to improved treatments, especially the widespread use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.
The steep rise in hypertension-related deaths was, therefore, unexpected, Nambiar said.
"Since hypertension is a leading risk factor for coronary heart disease -- for which death rates have improved -- I thought we'd see an improvement in hypertension in conjunction with that overall trend," she said. "But we're just seeing it get worse and worse."
Nambiar said the findings could suggest an increase in heart failure, in which the heart becomes too weak to adequately pump blood through the body.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on high blood pressure.