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Global High Blood Pressure Rates Doubled Over the Past 30 Years

Woman getting her blood pressure checked.

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Key Takeaways

  • Blood pressure rates have dramatically increased across the world, according to a new study.
  • An estimated 626 million women and 652 million men had high blood pressure in 2019.
  • Experts say more prevention and treatment is needed.

The number of people in the world with high blood pressure doubled in the last 30 years, according to a new large-scale study.

The August study, which was published in The Lancet, analyzed blood pressure measurements from more than 100 million people taken over three decades in 184 countries.

The researchers found that, over the past 30 years, the number of adults aged 30 to 79 who are living with high blood pressure worldwide doubled from 331 million women and 317 million men in 1990 to 626 million women and 652 million men in 2019.

What Is Considered High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, which carry blood from your heart to other areas of your body. It's measured with two numbers, systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The first measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats, and the second measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats. A normal blood pressure level is less than 120/80 mmHg. The guidelines used to diagnose high blood pressure can differ by the care provider. This particular study used 140/90 mm Hg or higher as the threshold.

The largest increases in rates were seen in low- and middle-income countries.

Many people with high blood pressure also didn’t realize they had it. The researchers discovered that 41% of women and 51% of men with high blood pressure worldwide in 2019 were not aware that they had the condition. Fifty-three percent of women and 62% of men weren’t treated for it.

Overall, blood pressure was controlled in less than one in four women and one in five men with hypertension. The researchers discovered that high blood pressure rates were lowest in Canada and Peru for men and women.

Study co-author Rodrigo M. Carrillo Larco, MD, a postgraduate researcher at Imperial College London, tells Verywell that he and his colleagues decided to study global high blood pressure rates because nothing currently exists to monitor them.

“Comparable data on hypertension detection, treatment, and control are needed to learn from good practice to guide health system programs, but no comparable global data exist to assess which countries have high versus low rates of detection, treatment, and control and how these measures have changed over time,” he says.

Experts say these rising rates are concerning. High blood pressure is dangerous, Erin McNeely, MD, an internal medicine physician at Spectrum Health, tells Verywell.

“High blood pressure can damage vital organs like the brain, heart, and kidneys, leading to higher rates of dementia, heart failure, and kidney disease,” she says.

Why Are High Blood Pressure Rates Increasing?

While the study didn’t investigate this, doctors have a few theories. Larco says that “population growth and aging” may play a role. People are living longer and therefore may be at a higher risk of developing hypertension.

"With age, the arteries begin to stiffen and this also drives up blood pressure," McNeely says.

Healthcare providers worldwide are also keeping a closer eye on blood pressure markers, which may be a contributing factor, Hoang Nguyen, MD, an interventional cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in California, tells Verywell.

“When more blood pressure cuffs are available in the community, it allows more hypertension to be detected,” he notes.

Increasing rates of metabolic diseases like obesity are likely linked, too, McNeely says.

“This has happened as fewer people live traditional lifestyles,” she says. “We drive cars and eat processed foods instead of walking places and eating more natural, low salt, lower fat and lower sugar diets. We tend to have more sedentary jobs than the populations of the pre-computer era. All these factors contribute to increases in blood pressure.” 

What This Means For You

High blood pressure is serious and can lead to complications like stroke and heart failure. If you’re concerned about your blood pressure or have a family history of high blood pressure, talk to a healthcare provider about next steps.

How to Lower Blood Pressure

There are medications available to treat high blood pressure, but Larco points out that prevention is crucial.

“The most important thing is policies that increase availability and consumption of fruits and vegetables [and] reduce salt intake,” he says.

Larco says that it’s important for communities to “expand hypertension detection through more widespread and regular contact with healthcare providers and frequent measurements of blood pressure.”

In order to do this, he says, “universal health coverage and expansion of primary care play a key role.”

Nguyen says it’s also vital for countries to provide easy access to affordable medications to treat high blood pressure. On an individual level, McNeely emphasizes that being more active can help, too.

“Walking is a really simple intervention that has definitively been shown to improve blood pressure and almost everyone can do it,” she says. McNeely also suggests doing your best to eat a well-balanced diet that’s low in sodium.

“Flavoring foods with herbs and spices instead of salt can promote instead of hinder your health,” she says. “Read labels or make your own food at home to ensure healthy ingredients.”

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes. Updated May 18, 2021.

  2. Zhou B, Carrillo-Larco R, Danaei G et al. Worldwide trends in hypertension prevalence and progress in treatment and control from 1990 to 2019: a pooled analysis of 1201 population-representative studies with 104 million participants. The Lancet. 2021. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(21)01330-1