World Health Day: Know Your Blood Pressure

By Charlene Porter
Staff Writer

High blood pressure is a major factor leading to heart attacks and strokes for people everywhere. Health care providers are emphasizing the importance of controlling this risky condition in recognition of World Health Day, April 7.

The event is marked on this same date each year, the anniversary of the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO). Created in 1948, WHO now counts 194 nations as members.

WHO estimates that high blood pressure — also known as hypertension — is a factor in close to 9.4 million deaths each year.

“Your blood pressure naturally rises and falls a bit during the day,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in a blog post recognizing World Health Day, “but permanent high blood pressure is a dangerous condition that increases your chance of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, and even blindness.”

Knowing your blood pressure level and keeping it at a healthy rate is the WHO message for World Health Day. This is of particular importance in the developing world where the risk is highest. In Africa, 46 percent of adults have high blood pressure, WHO reports, the highest rate among world regions. The Americas have the lowest prevalence, with 35 percent of the population having hypertension readings at a dangerous level.

How to keep your blood pressure under control is no mystery. The basic guidelines for a healthy lifestyle apply: less salt in a balanced diet, with regular physical activity. Stay off the tobacco, and go easy on the alcohol.

The payoff for following those guidelines can be huge for both the individual and society at large.

“Early detection of high blood pressure and lowering heart attack and stroke risk is clearly far less expensive for individuals and governments than heart surgery, stroke care, dialysis, and other interventions that may be needed later if high blood pressure is left unchecked and uncontrolled,” says Dr. Shanthi Mendis, acting director of the WHO Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases.

In the United States, high blood pressure is estimated to affect one in three adults. It is known as “the silent killer” because it frequently presents no warning signs or symptoms.

Blood pressure awareness is a key factor in the U.S. campaign Million Hearts. This drive aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over five years by raising awareness of the risk factors and promoting healthy lifestyles. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, state and local agencies, community organizations and private partners are all contributing to Million Hearts to minimize the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Representatives of the NIH’s Heart, Lung and Blood Institute will be participating in a Google+ Hangout April 5 about hypertension in honor of World Health Day.

More information on the Google+ hangout is available on an American Heart Association website

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