Up to 50 million Americans aged six and older suffer from high blood pressure or hypertension. CBS News correspondent John Roberts reports on a surprising new study which shows that many hypertension patients who have regular checkups are still not receiving proper treatment.
It is called the silent killer, but the statistics surrounding it are anything but silent. Every year, 40,000 Americans die as a direct result of high blood pressure, another 200,000 from related causes.
"Hypertension, if left untreated can result in a number of adverse outcomes including strokes, heart attacks and congestive heart failure" says Dr. Dan Berlowitz.
Berlowitz is the lead author of a study published in the December 31st edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. He is the associate director of the Veterans Affairs New England Health Care System in Bedford, Mass.
The numbers in study from Dr. Berlowitz are particularly disturbing. He found that among patients undergoing regular treatment for high blood pressure, more than 75 percent were poorly controlled, with readings above the 140/90 threshold for hypertension. Another 40 percent had readings above 160/90, considered dangerous.
"The rates of control are nowhere near where we would like them to be" says hypertension specialist Dr. Tom Pickering from New York Cornell Medical Center.
Dr. Pickering says that too often, when patients come in for a checkup with elevated blood pressure, doctors do nothing to lower it. He says it increases the risk that the patient is going to have something bad happen to them later on.
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It is not for lack of medications. For most people, modern anti-hypertensives are very effective at controlling blood pressure. However many doctors, fearing side effects, are reluctant to increase dosages or switch medications. This unfortunately puts their patients at even greater risk.
"The message, at leasfor physicians is that they should really re-examine their practices" says Berlowitz. "Look for how they are treating patients and for opportunities to be more aggressive in their therapy of high blood pressure."
Until this report, most other studies had put the blame for poor blood pressure control on either lack of medical care or patients not taking their medication. The authors say this clearly shows doctors need to take responsibility as well.