The number of people in the world with high blood pressure doubled in the last 30 years, according to a new large-scale study.
The August study, which was published in The Lancet, analyzed blood pressure measurements from more than 100 million people taken over three decades in 184 countries.
The researchers found that, over the past 30 years, the number of adults aged 30 to 79 who are living with high blood pressure worldwide doubled from 331 million women and 317 million men in 1990 to 626 million women and 652 million men in 2019.
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, which carry blood from your heart to other areas of your body.
It’s measured with two numbers, systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The first measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats, and the second measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
A normal blood pressure level is less than 120/80 mmHg. The guidelines used to diagnose high blood pressure can differ by the care provider. This particular study used 140/90 mm Hg or higher as the threshold.
The largest increases in rates were seen in low- and middle-income countries.
Many people with high blood pressure also didn’t realize they had it. The researchers discovered that 41% of women and 51% of men with high blood pressure worldwide in 2019 were not aware that they had the condition. Fifty-three per cent of women and 62% of men weren’t treated for it.
Overall, blood pressure was controlled in less than one in four women and one in five men with hypertension. The researchers discovered that high blood pressure rates were lowest in Canada and Peru for men and women.
Study co-author Rodrigo M. Carrillo Larco, MD, a postgraduate researcher at Imperial College London, tells Verywell that he and his colleagues decided to study global high blood pressure rates because nothing currently exists to monitor them.
Experts say these rising rates are concerning. High blood pressure is dangerous, Erin McNeely, MD, an internal medicine physician at Spectrum Health, tells Verywell.
“High blood pressure can damage vital organs like the brain, heart, and kidneys, leading to higher rates of dementia, heart failure, and kidney disease,” she says.
While the study didn’t investigate this, doctors have a few theories. Larco says that “population growth and aging” may play a role. People are living longer and therefore may be at a higher risk of developing hypertension.
“With age, the arteries begin to stiffen and this also drives up blood pressure,” McNeely says.
Healthcare providers worldwide are also keeping a closer eye on blood pressure markers, which may be a contributing factor, Hoang Nguyen, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Memorial Care Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in California, tells Verywell.
“When more blood pressure cuffs are available in the community, it allows more hypertension to be detected,” he notes.
High blood pressure is serious and can lead to complications like stroke and heart failure. If you’re concerned about your blood pressure or have a family history of high blood pressure, talk to a healthcare provider about next steps.
There are medications available to treat high blood pressure, but Larco points out that prevention is crucial.
“Walking is a really simple intervention that has definitively been shown to improve blood pressure and almost everyone can do it,” she says. McNeely also suggests doing your best to eat a well-balanced diet that’s low in sodium.
“Flavoring foods with herbs and spices instead of salt can promote instead of hinder your health,” she says. “Read labels or make your own food at home to ensure healthy ingredients.”
Fact checked by Angela Underwood