Americans Don't Do Enough to Cut Hypertension, Cholesterol

The CDC says in a new report that about two-thirds of adults in the U.S. who have high cholesterol levels and about half who have high blood pressure are not being treated as effectively as they could be, unnecessarily raising their risk of stroke or heart attacks.

Feb. 1, 2011 -- The CDC says in a new report that about two-thirds of adults in the U.S. who have high cholesterol levels and about half who have high blood pressure are not being treated as effectively as they could be, unnecessarily raising their risk of stroke or heart attacks.

More than 80% of people whose blood pressure or LDL “bad” cholesterol is not under control have either private or public health insurance, the CDC says.

This means that for many people, having the financial means to receive medical treatment is not sufficient to achieve blood pressure and LDL cholesterol goals, the CDC says in its Feb. 1 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Risk of Cardiovascular Events

The new numbers are disturbing because with more effort and vigilance on the part of doctors and patients, about 100,000 people who die annually from blood pressure or cholesterol-related problems might live, CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a news briefing.

Heart attacks, strokes, and related vascular diseases kill more than 800,000 Americans annually, more than any other condition, he says, and of those, 150,000 are younger than 65.

Frieden says tens of thousands of lives could be saved with simple, low-cost treatments to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

He also says Americans need to cut back on salt consumption, which may lead to high blood pressure, and that the new report indicates that having health insurance is just one factor in the cardiovascular health equation.

Many people who have health insurance and see doctors regularly still have cholesterol and blood pressure problems, Frieden says.

He says that doctors could do more to help patients reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, and people could do more to help themselves.

The CDC report on which he was commenting says that people who lack health insurance have the lower rates of control of their cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

“Although we’re making some progress, the United States is failing to prevent the leading cause of death -- cardiovascular disease -- despite the existence of low cost, highly effective treatments,” Frieden says in a news release. “We need to do a better job of improving care and supporting patients to prevent avoidable illness, disability and death.”

Controlling Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

The report was based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, also known as NHANES, which is an ongoing study of the health and nutritional status of some 5,000 participants.

Among the key findings of the new report:

  • Almost one-third of adults have high blood pressure.
  • A third with high blood pressure do not get pharmacologic treatment.
  • About half of adults with high blood pressure do not have it under control.
  • A third of adults have high cholesterol.
  • About half of those with high cholesterol do not get treatment.
  • Two-thirds of those with high cholesterol do not have the condition under control.

The study team calls for the implementation of a comprehensive approach to improve access to health care and to find new ways to encourage patients to take necessary steps to reduce their risks of strokes and heart attacks by aggressively treating high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Making Healthy Choices

The CDC says it is involved in educational programs that stress the need for Americans to make healthy lifestyle choices, exercise, and watch their weight to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The report says Americans should take steps known to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. These include eating a diet low in sodium, low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and rich in fruits and vegetables. Also, getting some exercise is beneficial, the CDC says.

People should take steps themselves, but reducing sodium intake to recommended levels can also be helped by food producers, restaurants, and fast-food establishments by reducing salt in products they sell, CDC says.

The CDC report expresses concern that there has been no significant decline in the prevalence of hypertension during the past decade even though 70% of people with high blood pressure are being treated with medication and 46% are controlled.

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