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Controlling High Blood Pressure: We Can Do Better
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure. Hypertension affects about one in three Americans and its treatment and complications are estimated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to cost $131 billion dollars. While many cases can be prevented with a nutritious diet, regular exercise, a healthy body weight, and stress management, the likelihood of developing hypertension rises with age. Decades ago the options for treatment were very limited, but we now have a wide variety of medications, many of which cost only pennies per day.
Blood pressure is easy to measure and track, and treating it can save lives and prevent disability, so the CDC’s recent finding that over half of those with hypertension are not controlled is a hard pill to swallow.
In their analysis, reported in the September 4, 2012 edition of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, CDC researchers with the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) evaluated more than 20,000 individuals. When those with uncontrolled blood pressure were queried, nearly 40 percent had no idea that their blood pressure was a problem at all. Amongst those who knew they had hypertension, about one in six was on no medication. As expected, those without health insurance or regular healthcare were more likely to have uncontrolled blood pressure. However, over 85 percent of people who were not controlled were insured. In fact, more than half of all Medicare patients studied had high readings despite their access to inexpensive healthcare.
What’s going on here? Both doctors and patients bear some responsibility. Treating high blood pressure is often fairly straightforward, but side effects to medication are not unusual, and this is often what scares people away from getting the problem controlled. Doctors must be more persistent in identifying and treating hypertension, and patients need to let their doctors know when a medication is not working out for them, since there are usually other options. Medical care is a team effort, but you are the star player. Keeping your blood pressure controlled can add years of good health to your life. Don’t settle for less.
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