On December 15, 2012 the Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, published findings from The Global Burden of Disease Study. The GBD Study is the largest assessment and analysis of global health and disease to date. For the first time the study found that non-communicable diseases topped the list of causes of death. Other leading causes such as malnutrition and infectious illnesses have declined dramatically, giving up their top-rankings to “lifestyle” diseases such as heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. Heart attacks and strokes are the first and third leading causes of death worldwide, while the single most important risk factor for death and disability is high blood pressure or Hypertension. To highlight the importance of this finding, the World Health Organization has selected Hypertension as the theme for World Health Day on April 7, 2013.
The WHO estimates that 13% of deaths (9.4 million annually) and 7% of disability worldwide are caused by increased blood pressure, a marked increase over the last estimates done in 1990. Hypertension is a complex disease that results when the pressure within the arteries rises above the accepted maximum of 140/90. As a result, the heart must work harder, straining the cardiovascular system and sensitive organs such as the brain, kidneys and eyes. Complications of sustained high blood pressure include congestive heart failure, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and blindness.
In recent years it has been recognized that higher blood pressure, from 120-139 /80-89, increases the risk of developing hypertension. This condition, known as Pre-Hypertension, increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, especially when associated with other risk factors such as diabetes, elevated cholesterol or smoking.
In many cases, preventing and treating Hypertension can be achieved with a healthy lifestyle. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium is best. Regular aerobic exercise, maintaining an ideal weight and waist size are also important. Once a person is diagnosed as hypertensive it is critical to make improvements to diet and exercise. If these “lifestyle” measures do not bring blood pressure to within the target range of less than 140/90, it may be necessary to take anti-hypertensive medications. When these medications are needed it is very important they be taken as prescribed to ensure continued protection for the heart and critical organs.
The ultimate goal of World Health Day 2013 is to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease by creating an awareness of Hypertension – a goal we wholeheartedly support and encourage.
Worldwide Risk Factor for Death and Disability (click to enlarge)