The Increasing Number of Adults with High Blood Pressure Statement from Barbara Alving, M.D., Acting Director, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
A new analysis* of the prevalence of high blood pressure in the
US shows a striking increase over the last 10 years in the number
of adults with this condition.
According to this study, there are about 65 million hypertensive
adults in this country or about a third of US adults (age 18 and
older). This number, based on survey and examination data from 1999
to 2000, contrasts with data from 1988 – 1994 which found
that about 50 million adults had hypertension. The data came from
the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Health and Nutrition Examination
The new analysis shows that the proportion of the population with
hypertension grew by about 8 percent in the last decade. In terms
of absolute numbers, the study found a 30 percent increase in the
total number of adults with hypertension.
The rising trend in hypertension has important consequences for
the public health of this nation. High blood pressure is a major
risk factor for heart disease and the chief risk factor for stroke
and heart failure, and also can lead to kidney damage.
The hypertension trend is not unexpected given the increase in
obesity and an aging population. Obesity contributes to the development
of hypertension and the current epidemic of overweight and obesity
in the U.S. has set the stage for an increase in high blood pressure.
We also know that high blood pressure becomes more common as people
get older. At age 55, those who do not have high blood pressure
have a 90 percent chance of developing it at some point in their
This is not healthy aging! Fortunately, we can take steps to reverse
Guidelines issued by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s
National High Blood Pressure Education Program (NHBPEP) identified
a new prehypertension category. This category was created to alert
people to their risk of developing high blood pressure so they could
make lifestyle changes to help avoid developing the condition. These
changes include losing excess weight, becoming physically active,
limiting alcoholic beverages, and following a heart-healthy eating
plan, including cutting back on salt and other forms of sodium.
Prevention efforts must start early. According to recent high blood
pressure guidelines for children and adolescents, prehypertension
and hypertension are also significant health issues in the young
due in large part to the marked increase in the prevalence of overweight
children. These guidelines were also issued by the NHBPEP, which
represents 46 professional, voluntary, and Federal organizations.
For over 30 years, the NHBPEP has worked to educate the public
and health professionals about the importance of diagnosing, preventing,
and treating high blood pressure. We have had many success stories
over the years, including improved awareness, treatment, and control
rates. In fact, part of the increase in hypertension shown in the
new study may be due to better survival of those who have been treated
or may be living longer as a result of healthier lifestyles.
We hope that this new data will serve as a wake-up call to physicians,
other health care professionals, and the public. More aggressive
prevention and treatment of high blood pressure is needed. Our heart
health depends on it.
NHLBI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the
Federal Government’s primary agency for biomedical and behavioral
research. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. NHLBI press releases and other materials, including
an interactive Web page, “Your Guide to Lowering High Blood
Pressure,” are available online at www.nhlbi.nih.gov.
*Fields LE, Burt VL, Cutler JA, Hughes J, Roccella EJ, Sorlie P.
The Burden of Adult Hypertension in the United States 1999 to 2000,
A Rising Tide. Hypertension; 2004; 44: 1-7.