High Blood Pressure Rising In U.S.

Patient has Blood Pressure taken
It's the most common chronic disease, the leading reason we go to the doctor. But for all our efforts to control it, the country's high blood pressure problem is getting worse, reports CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin.

"The prevalence of hypertension is actually increasing, where we thought it was decreasing," said Dr. Cheryl Laffer, a hypertension expert at Lennox Hill Hospital.

Government data collected to chart the nation's health show that
in 1991, 25 percent of adults surveyed had high blood pressure and in 2000, the number climbed to 28.7 percent.

In actual numbers that's a huge leap: from 50 to 58 million people.

"Every doctor will be dealing with this problem in almost a third of the patient they see," said Dr. Ihab Hajjar of the University of South Carolina.

African-Americans have the worst record and there's been a significant increase among women.

Laffer told Kaledin that for a society as a whole, we should be alarmed by these numbers.

"This is a warning that the epidemic is not peaking — it's going on," said Laffer. "I mean it's just increasing and increasing."

Hypertension is the leading cause of stroke and a major contributor to heart disease.

Though we're better at detecting it with screening clinics and controlling it with medication, there is clearly much room for improvement.

Laffer said it's a combination of the patient and the doctor.

"A lot of doctors are unwilling to give the patient more than one medication. Most people with high blood pressure will need two or more medications," she said.

What is also not surprising, rising blood pressure rates go hand in hand with another public health crisis: obesity. Lowering blood pressure may be as much about diet as drugs.

Solving the problem of hypertension is complicated, but experts say it starts with something simple: awareness. Thirty percent of Americans with high blood pressure don't even know it.