The Biggest Risk Factor For Death Is Sorely Neglected, But Easily Treated

Treating hypertension: it's not rocket science

FORBES – You almost certainly know someone living with hypertension (high blood pressure). That person might be you yourself.

As noted in a new World Health Organization (WHO) stock-take report, its first on hypertension globally, fully one in three adults has hypertension. The number of people with the condition has doubled in the past 30 years, to reach 1.3 billion.

It’s so common that it may be taken for granted, or treated as fairly benign. Yet it’s the leading risk factor for mortality, often implicated in heart attacks and strokes.

The good news is that treating hypertension isn’t rocket science. Nor will it break the bank.

“Treatment is low-cost, safe, effective, and can be done by nurses, pharmacists, and community health workers,” stressed Tom Frieden, the head of the health nonprofit Resolve to Save Lives, speaking at a press briefing on September 18.

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Dietary change is one useful tool. Lowering sodium and raising potassium is a proven formula for lowering blood pressure. This involves cutting back on highly processed foods and adding in more fiber, fruit, and vegetables. Using salt substitutes enriched with potassium has been proven to be effective (though the WHO doesn’t make any recommendations about potassium supplements).

“Too much sodium is a major risk factor and contribute to more deaths than any other dietary risk factor, but barely 6% of the world’s countries have effective measures in place to tackle excess sodium consumption,” explained Frieden.

Yet there is an established set of policies that have helped to bring down sodium consumption, Frieden commented: “Things like salt targets for packaged foods…healthy public food procurement and service policies, and front-of-pack warnings – as pioneered by countries in South America – all work.”

However, as the WHO report cautions, there are limits to the power of eating habits alone, even when combined with more exercise. Almost everybody diagnosed with hypertension will need the help of medications to control the condition. Lifestyle changes can complement medicines, but won’t replace them.

Yet medicine access isn’t always a given … READ MORE. 

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