Epidemiologic aspects of hypertension in the world
Dr. Fernando S. Antezana
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD), most of
which are due to atherosclerosis (mainly heart attack and stroke) and often
related to arterial hypertension, are responsible for nearly 20% of all
deaths world-wide (nearly 10 million). They are the principal cause of death
in all developed countries accounting for 50% of all deaths and are also
emerging as a prominent public health problem in developing countries, ranking
third with nearly 16% of all deaths. They have already become the first
cause of death in such countries as Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Mauritius, Singapore,
Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay. Many developing countries are
now in a phase of epidemiological transition and face the double burden
of communicable and non-communicable diseases, with the severe repercussions
this has on their very weak economies.
Mean systolic and diastolic blood pressure and prevalence of AH increase with age throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood in most populations of developed and developing countries. However, in some isolated populations, this age-related rise of blood pressure (BP) is not evident.
Men tend to display higher blood pressure than women, more evident in youth and middle-age. Later in life (over 50 years old), the difference narrows and the pattern may be reversed.
Although the precise mode of heredity/inheritance has not yet been demonstrated, a high occurrence of hypertension is observed among subjects with a family history of hypertension and it is higher and more severe when both parents are concerned.
Studies have also revealed higher blood pressure levels in the black community than in other ethnic groups, mainly in black Afro-Americans with early onset, severity and appearance of complications.
Evidence from cross-sectional and longitudinal studies show a direct, strong and consistent relationship between weight and blood pressure. This is valid in primitive and advanced cultures, as well as in childhood and adulthood. Individuals who gain weight have a twofold to sixfold greater risk of developing hypertension. Moreover, weight reduction has been accompanied by a fall in blood pressure and in antihypertensive drug consumption.
Sodium chloride intake
Experimental and observational studies have shown that the intake of sodium chloride, in excess of the physiological requirements (5-7 gr per day), is associated with high blood pressure; communities whose daily intake of sodium is low (less than 3-4 gr.) have low average blood pressure. A lower intake of sodium over a lifetime would result in a smaller rise in blood pressure and a significant reduction in mortality from coronary heart disease and stroke.
There is an inverse relationship between blood pressure and dietary intake of potassium.
A consistent association between alcohol intake and high blood pressure has been observed. Both acute and chronic effects have been noted and this association is more evident in daily drinkers.
There is a negative relationship between aerobic physical activities and blood pressure; sedentary and unfit normotensive individuals have a 20-50 % greater risk of developing hypertension during follow-up than their more active and fit peers. Regular aerobic physical activity has been demonstrated to be beneficial for both prevention and treatment of hypertension.
There is some evidence that adverse psychosocial environments might increase blood pressure. However, they are insufficient to allow definite conclusions of causality.
In developed countries with affluent economies, higher levels of blood pressure and higher prevalence of hypertension in lower socio-economic groups have been noted; this inverse relation has been also noted with levels of education, income and occupation. In societies that are in the transitional stage of economic and epidemiological change, higher levels of blood pressure and a higher prevalence of hypertension have been noted in upper socio-economic groups.
Prospective controlled studies have shown that estrogen-progestogen contraceptives
cause a distinct increase in blood pressure in virtually all women. Almost
invariably blood pressure falls when the oral contraceptive is withdrawn.
Micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium, cadmium and zinc, and macronutrients
such as fat, fatty acids, carbohydrate, fibre and protein have been investigated
in several populations. However, there is as yet no evidence of a causal
relationship with high blood pressure.
In the last 30 years there has been a change in cardiovascular mortality
trends. A decline in arterial hypertension mortality and its complications,
mainly coronary heart disease and stroke, has been observed in several developed
countries of North America, Western Europe and the Western Pacific. However
prevalence and incidence of hypertension have only slightly changed though
a marked increase in these countries in the frequency of hypertensive patients
aware of the disease and undergoing treatment for hypertension and blood
pressure controls. However, the contrary has been noted in other countries,
mainly in Central and Eastern Europe and several developing countries.
Few accurate data are available on CVD and AH morbidity and mortality from most developing countries. However, from available data we can remark that hypertension is the most frequent cardiovascular disease and a major health problem in the adult population of most developing countries. The prevalence of hypertension also has a marked variation among and within developing countries. It is lower than in developed countries, with high prevalence in Barbados, Brazil, Chile and Cuba, and lower prevalence in Asian and African countries, such as China, India, Nepal, Senegal, Tanzania and Zaire; with a lower percentage in rural areas. The few data from developing countries show, in general, a very low percentage of hypertensive patients undergoing treatment and blood pressure controls (Table II).
Multinational studies on community control of arterial hypertension in several centres, including developed and developing countries have shown a marked decrease in the mean systolic and diastolic blood pressure. A large increases in percentages of hypertensives aware of the disease, and undergoing treatment and blood pressure controls was observed after five years of intervention and a decline in total mortality and mortality due to stroke and ischaemic heart disease was noted. Females are treated and controlled more frequently than males. The same benefit, although to lesser degree, was seen in the reference areas.
Principle for prevention and control
The prevention of complications resulting
from high blood pressure in any population requires reducing the risk of
developing high blood pressure in the population as a whole (population
approach) and identifying individuals with hypertension, who are at increased
risk of developing complications, for further treatment and control through
pharmacological and non-pharmacological therapy-weight reduction, alcohol
intake reduction, moderation of dietary sodium, increasing physical activity,
traditional medicine (individual approach). Combining the individual approach
with the population approach provides a comprehensive strategy for the prevention
and control of hypertension and its complications at the community level
and lies within the context of the integration of the prevention and control
of cardiovascular diseases/non-communicable diseases into the primary health
care system of a country.
Taking into account the various determinants of hypertension, including psychosocial factors, the so-called "two cultures" approach can be very useful in the management of AH. This approach provides the opportunity for complementary therapy in today's world where, for every health problem, one tends to look for technological solutions without perhaps considering the application of very effective non-pharmacological techniques.
Edited by Aldo Campana,