World Health Day Recognizes Challenges, Successes in High Blood Pressure Research

By: Allison Hydzik

In recognition of the World Health Organization’s April 7 “World Health Day” theme of high blood pressure, or hypertension, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health professor emeritus Lewis Kuller, M.D., Dr.P.H., discusses the good – and bad – news about high blood pressure.

“The prevention and treatment of elevated blood pressure is one of the major health advances of the last 40 years,” said Dr. Kuller, who is nationally recognized for his contributions to the study of cardiovascular disease. “But it is also one of the biggest epidemics we face worldwide. Sixty to 80 percent of our elderly have hypertension, and it is of rapidly growing concern in Africa, South America and China. It is also a very solvable problem.”

According to Dr. Kuller, the main non-genetic contributing factors to high blood pressure are:
  • Too much sodium in the diet, largely caused by our consumption of processed foods. There has been a national effort involving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others, to work with packaged food manufacturers to gradually lower the salt content in processed foods.
  • Our growing waistlines. Cutting obesity rates and losing weight are important in controlling hypertension.
  • Excess alcohol consumption. Cutting back on alcohol intake is often part of lifestyle changes recommended to help lower blood pressure.
  • Stress. A person’s blood pressure will typically rise and fall throughout the day, and stress is known to drive it up. Learning and employing stress management techniques when possible can help regulate blood pressure.
Sources of sodium in the diet. (Source: USDA)

But lifestyle and diet modifications can be difficult, even with the best intentions, and often aren’t enough. That’s why Dr. Kuller says it is so important for people to take their blood pressure medication as recommended by their doctors.

“Nearly 80 percent of people with high blood pressure know it, but only a third of them have it under control,” said Dr. Kuller. “We now have generic medications that have low, manageable side-effects, and some insurance companies even fully cover the costs. Regularly taking your blood pressure medication is critical to avoiding strokes, congestive heart failure, cardiovascular disease and myriad other serious and deadly health problems associated with high blood pressure.”