A Public Health Time Bomb

blood pressure

If you don't have it, chances are you know someone who does. CBS News Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports that some 50 million American have high blood pressure. And it's a public health time bomb.

"It's the major risk factor for heart disease which is one of the number one killers in this country and also for stroke, which is one of the causes of disability," said hypertension expert Dr. Thomas Pickering.

Treating high blood pressure -- as common as it is -- remains one of medicine's toughest challenges. Only a third of people with high blood pressure actually have it under control.

There are more than 100 blood pressure drugs on the market, but finding a combination that works is a guessing game. And to compound the problem, blood pressure drugs are often taken at the wrong time of day.

Blood pressure is highest in the morning, a phenomenon known as "a.m. surge," leading to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke between 6 a.m. and noon.

Yet surveys show many doctors tell their patients to take blood pressure pills in the morning -- when they'll be least effective.

"If you just take medication in the morning and it's not very long-acting, there's going to be a period of time when you're relatively unprotected when the blood pressure is going up," said Pickering.

To solve the problem, the FDA is considering approval for a new, delayed release blood pressure drug. Many doctors, including Dr. Domenic Sica of Virginia Commonwealth University, like the idea.

"Somehow you have to slow the entry of the drug into the body and allow it all of a sudden to give you a nice burst of drug around 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning," he said.

In the meantime, doctors have some additional advice for hypertension sufferers. Until the prefect medication comes along, meditation and relaxation can't hurt.