The increasing number of adults with high blood pressure

August 23, 2004

A new analysis* of the prevalence of high blood pressure in the US shows a striking increase over the last 10 years in the number of adults with this condition.

According to this study, there are about 65 million hypertensive adults in this country or about a third of US adults (age 18 and older). This number, based on survey and examination data from 1999 to 2000, contrasts with data from 1988 - 1994 which found that about 50 million adults had hypertension. The data came from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The new analysis shows that the proportion of the population with hypertension grew by about 8 percent in the last decade. In terms of absolute numbers, the study found a 30 percent increase in the total number of adults with hypertension.

The rising trend in hypertension has important consequences for the public health of this nation. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and the chief risk factor for stroke and heart failure, and also can lead to kidney damage.

The hypertension trend is not unexpected given the increase in obesity and an aging population. Obesity contributes to the development of hypertension and the current epidemic of overweight and obesity in the U.S. has set the stage for an increase in high blood pressure. We also know that high blood pressure becomes more common as people get older. At age 55, those who do not have high blood pressure have a 90 percent chance of developing it at some point in their lives.

This is not healthy aging! Fortunately, we can take steps to reverse this trend.

Guidelines issued by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's National High Blood Pressure Program (NHBPEP) identified a new prehypertension category. This category was created to alert people to their risk of developing high blood pressure so they could make lifestyle changes to help avoid developing the condition. These changes include losing excess weight, becoming physically active, limiting alcoholic beverages, and following a heart-healthy eating plan, including cutting back on salt and other forms of sodium.

Prevention efforts must start early. According to recent high blood pressure guidelines for children and adolescents, prehypertension and hypertension are also significant health issues in the young due in large part to the marked increase in the prevalence of overweight children. These guidelines were also issued by the NHBPEP, which represents 46 professional, voluntary, and Federal organizations.

For over 30 years, the NHBPEP has worked to educate the public and health professionals about the importance of diagnosing, preventing, and treating high blood pressure. We have had many success stories over the years, including improved awareness, treatment, and control rates. In fact, part of the increase in hypertension shown in the new study may be due to better survival of those who have been treated or may be living longer as a result of healthier lifestyles.

We hope that this new data will serve as a wake-up call to physicians, other health care professionals, and the public. More aggressive prevention and treatment of high blood pressure is needed. Our heart health depends on it.
*Fields LE, Burt VL, Cutler JA, Hughes J, Roccella EJ, Sorlie P. The Burden of Adult Hypertension in the United States 1999 to 2000, A Rising Tide. Hypertension; 2004; 44: 1-7.

NHLBI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Federal Government's primary agency for biomedical and behavioral research. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NHLBI press releases and other materials, including an interactive Web page, "Your Guide to Lowering High Blood Pressure," are available online at

NIH/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

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