The race against a silent killer

27 September 2023

High blood pressure is one of the world’s leading risk factors for death and disability. The number of people living with hypertension (blood pressure of ≥140 mmHg systolic or ≥90 mmHg diastolic or on medication) doubled between 1990 and 2019, from 650 million to 1.3 billion.

This common, deadly condition is an important public health problem that leads to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney damage and many other health problems. A study of 87 behavioural, environmental, occupational and metabolic risk factors found that high systolic blood pressure (≥110–115 mmHg) was the single most important risk factor for early death worldwide, leading to an estimated 10.8 million avoidable deaths every year, and a burden of 235 million years of life lost or lived with a disability (DALYs) annually.

High blood pressure causes more deaths than other leading risk factors, including tobacco use and high blood sugar. Hypertension and its associated complications also have enormous economic costs – for patients and their families, health systems and national economies.

For people who have hypertension, there are ways to minimize its impact on health and wellbeing. The starting point for living well with hypertension and preventing complications is early diagnosis and early, effective treatment – the longer a person lives with undiagnosed and inadequately treated hypertension, the worse their health outcomes are likely to be.

Increasing the percentage of people whose hypertension is under control globally to 50% would prevent 76 million deaths between 2023 and 2050. Treating hypertension is one of the most important interventions to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.4 of a one third reduction in premature mortality from the leading noncommunicable diseases.

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