"Our aim today is to make people aware of the need to know their blood pressure, to take high blood pressure seriously, and then to take control," said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.
World Health Day is observed on 7 April every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO in 1948 and each year a theme is selected that highlights a priority area of concern for the agency. This year's theme "Measure your blood pressure, reduce your risk" focuses on preventing hypertension in people over 25 years of age.
° Día Mundial de la Salud 2013
Hypertension is one of the most important contributors to heart disease and stroke – which together make up the world's number one cause of premature death and disability. It is most prevalent in Africa, where it affects up to 46 per cent of adults.
High blood pressure also contributes to nearly 9.4 million deaths from cardiovascular disease each year and increases the risk of conditions such as kidney failure and blindness.
People can take simple measures to reduce the risk of hypertension such as consuming less salt, eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, avoiding tobacco use and avoiding harmful use of alcohol. These actions, along with the measurement of blood pressure, also save individuals and governments time and money, WHO says.
"Early detection of high blood pressure and lowering heart attack and stroke risk is clearly far less expensive for individuals and governments than heart surgery, stroke care, dialysis, and other interventions that may be needed later if high blood pressure is left unchecked and uncontrolled," said the Acting Director of the WHO Department for Management of Non-communicable Diseases, Shanthi Mendis.
"Most of the time there are no symptoms until you get complications, and this means that people have to know their numbers." Ms. Mendis underlined that people over the age of 40 in particular must make an effort to get their blood pressure taken, as it tends to go up gradually.
WHO's campaign to encourage people to measure their blood pressure is a response to the UN Declaration on Non-communicable Diseases, which was adopted by Heads of State and Government in September 2011. The Declaration commits countries to make greater efforts to promote public awareness campaigns to further the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and stroke, cancers, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases.
The United Nations health agency has called on countries to intensify efforts to prevent and control hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, which affects about one billion people worldwide.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is emphasizing the importance of people taking steps to improve their health by calling on adults to measure their blood pressure on World Health Day, which will be observed on Sunday.
Cut your risk of developing high blood pressure by: cutting down on salt; eating a balanced diet; avoiding harmful use of alcohol; doing regular physical activity; and avoiding tobacco use. Join the World Health Day conversation on Twitter @WHO - #CutRisks.
Q&As on hypertension Online
1. What is raised blood pressure (hypertension)?Hypertension, also known as high or raised blood pressure, is a condition in which the blood vessels have persistently raised pressure. Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of the body in the vessels. Each time the heart beats, it pumps blood into the vessels. Blood pressure is created by the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels (arteries) as it is pumped by the heart. The higher the pressure the harder the heart has to pump.
Normal adult blood pressure is defined as a blood pressure of 120 mm Hg1 when the heart beats (systolic) and a blood pressure of 80 mm Hg when the heart relaxes (diastolic). When systolic blood pressure is equal to or above 140 mm Hg and/or a diastolic blood pressure equal to or above 90 mm Hg the blood pressure is considered to be raised or high.
Sometimes hypertension causes symptoms such as headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, palpitations of the heart and nose bleeds. However, most people with hypertension have no symptoms at all.
2. Why is raised blood pressure dangerous?The higher the blood pressure, the higher the risk of damage to the heart and blood vessels in major organs such as the brain and kidneys.
If left uncontrolled, hypertension can lead to a heart attack, an enlargement of the heart and eventually heart failure. Blood vessels may develop bulges (aneurysms) and weak spots that make them more likely to clog and burst. The pressure in the blood vessels can cause blood to leak out into the brain and cause a stroke. Hypertension can also lead to kidney failure, blindness, and cognitive impairment.
The health consequences of hypertension can be compounded by other factors that increase the odds of heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. These factors include tobacco use, unhealthy diet, harmful use of alcohol, lack of physical inactivity, and exposure to persistent stress as well as obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes mellitus.
3. How can raised blood pressure be prevented and treated?All adults should have their blood pressure checked. If blood pressure is high, they need the advice of a health worker.
For some people, lifestyle changes are sufficient to control blood pressure such as stopping tobacco use, eating healthily, exercising regularly and avoiding the harmful use of alcohol. Reduction in salt intake can help. For others, these changes are insufficient and they need prescription medication to control blood pressure.
Adults can support treatment by adhering to the prescribed medication, by monitoring their health.
People with high blood pressure who also have high blood sugar or elevated blood cholesterol face even higher risk of heart attacks and stroke. Therefore it is important that regular checks for blood sugar, blood cholesterol and urine albumin take place.
Everyone can take five concrete steps to minimize the odds of developing high blood pressure and its adverse consequences.
- Healthy diet:
- promoting a healthy lifestyle with emphasis on proper nutrition for infants and young people;
- reducing salt intake to less than 5 g of salt per day (just under a teaspoon);
- eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day;
- reducing saturated and total fat intake.
- Avoiding harmful use of alcohol i.e. limit intake to no more than one standard drink a day
- Physical activity:
- regular physical activity and promotion of physical activity for children and young people (at least 30 minutes a day).
- maintaining a normal weight: every 5 kg of excess weight lost can reduce systolic blood pressure by 2 to 10 points.
- Stopping tobacco use and exposure to tobacco products
- Managing stress in healthy way such as through meditation, appropriate physical exercise, and positive social contact.
4. How common is raised blood pressure?More than one in three adults worldwide have raised blood pressure – a condition that causes around half of all deaths from stroke and heart disease. It is considered directly responsible for 7.5 million deaths in 2004 – almost 13% of all global deaths.
In nearly all high-income countries, widespread diagnosis and treatment with low-cost medication have led to a dramatic drop in mean blood pressure across populations – and this has contributed to a reduction in deaths from heart disease.
For example in 1980, almost 40% of adults in the WHO European Region and 31% of adults in the WHO Region of the Americas had high blood pressure. By 2008, this had dropped to below 30% and 23% respectively.
In contrast, in the WHO African region, more than 40% (and up to 50%) of adults in many countries are estimated to have high blood pressure and this proportion is increasing.
Many people with high blood pressure in developing countries remain undiagnosed, and so miss out on treatment that could significantly reduce their risk of death and disability from heart disease and stroke.
1 Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
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- World health statistics 2012
- Global Health Observatory