Eighty per cent of people with hypertension don’t receive adequate treatment, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)'s first report on the topic.
Though the condition is common with one in three people being affected on a global scale, the organisation estimates that it is severely underdiagnosed.
“Hypertension can be controlled effectively with simple, low-cost medication regimens, and yet only about one in five people with hypertension have controlled it,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
“Hypertension control programmes remain neglected, under-prioritized and vastly underfunded,” he added.
Blood pressure is calculated with two values, the first one is linked to the force when your heart beats and the second to when your heart rests.
Hypertension occurs when one or both are above average which is respectively 140 and 90 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) on average, though it depends on the individual.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for different conditions including heart disease, stroke and vascular dementia. Because the pressure puts extra demands on the blood vessels and organs, it can also increase the risk of suffering from kidney disease.
The older we get, the more sensitive we are to high blood pressure. Fewer than 10 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 suffer from hypertension, but after 65, around 65 per cent are affected, according to the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research.
Genetics also play a role.
However, people can change some risk factors such as a high-salt diet, a sedentary lifestyle and consuming alcohol or tobacco.
If all the people suffering from hypertension were properly treated, it could prevent 76 million deaths between 2023 and 2050, the WHO says.
Hypertension, a common but deadly condition
People with hypertension often do not have symptoms and thus very few people receive treatment. Even then, between 10 and 30 per cent of patients are resistant to the drugs against high blood pressure.
More than three-quarters of adults with hypertension live in low and middle-income countries.
"Every hour, more than 1,000 people die from strokes and heart attacks. Most of these deaths are caused by high blood pressure, and most could have been prevented," said Tom Frieden, president and CEO of the non-profit organisation Resolve to Save Lives.
"Good hypertension care is affordable, within reach, and strengthens primary health care. The challenge now is to go from 'within reach' to 'reached'," he added.
Hypertension is also costly: in the United States, the estimated cost of high blood pressure is about $131 to $198 billion (€122 to €185 billion) each year, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This takes into account the cost of health care services, medications and loss of productivity due to premature death.
The economic benefits of improved hypertension treatment programmes outweigh the costs by about 18 to 1, according to the WHO.