WHO Report Reveals Worldwide Hypertension Crisis

The World Health Organization’s first-ever report on hypertension has uncovered high blood pressure’s staggering burden to public health and the global economy.

By the numbers: Cardiovascular disease – of which high blood pressure is a dominant risk factor – is the leading cause of death in the world at 17.9M people each year, but that could grow higher.

  • 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 650M to 1.3B.
  • High systolic blood pressure causes ~10.8M avoidable deaths annually.
  • Just 21% of adults control their hypertension, but upping to 50% would prevent 76M deaths by 2050 – as well as 120M strokes, 79M heart attacks and 17M cases of heart failure.

Of note… If physical inactivity levels do not change, 240M new preventable cases of hypertension will occur, from 2020–2030, at a cost of Int$115B.

Along with physical inactivity, the WHO’s report highlights other leading lifestyle risk factors for hypertension, including sodium intake, alcohol consumption, tobacco use and air pollution — all of which have been linked to chronic conditions and early death.

A call to arms. The WHO outlines how its public health guidance HEARTS – launched in 2016 and now in 40 countries – can help countries manage hypertension. Despite being known as “the silent killer”, the WHO’s Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus feels positive a turnaround is possible:

“There are many challenges to tackling hypertension but, as this report shows, there are also many reasons for hope. By implementing programmes we can improve hypertension control rates and prevent millions of deaths from heart attack and stroke.”

The bottom line: Getting 50% of adults to control their hypertension by 2050 is worth Int$5.3T to the economy or “18 times greater than business as usual”. But while spelling out financial gains will incentivise governments, patients need personalised help to conquer the many psychological barriers leading to lifestyle changes and long-term adherence.

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