Four million Australians at risk from silent killer

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Heart Week 2017: Shining a light on the four million Australian adults who have high blood pressure that is either untreated or treated inadequately.

City people less likely to have high blood pressure under control than country people.

A quarter of Australian adults have high blood pressure that is either untreated or treated inadequately, putting them at risk of heart attack or stroke.

“More than four million Australians are walking around like a ticking time-bomb, either not knowing that their blood pressure is dangerously high, or unaware that their treatment is not working well enough,” says Heart Foundation National CEO, Adjunct Professor John Kelly.

“Not only is high blood pressure the biggest risk factor for Australia’s greatest killers – heart attack and stroke – but it causes other serious illnesses like dementia and kidney disease. In fact, in Australia, more deaths can be put down to high blood pressure than to any other single risk factor.”

Heart Foundation analysis of the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, released for Heart Week (30 April - 7 May 2017), highlights the importance of measuring and managing blood pressure.

Researchers found that city dwellers are at higher risk from high blood pressure than people living in the country. While people in the country are more likely to have high blood pressure (39% compared to 31%), they are also more likely to have their high blood pressure treated (63% compared to 48%).

City people are less likely to have spoken to their GP about their blood pressure, are less likely to have had a blood pressure check over the last two years, and are more likely to have high blood pressure that is unmanaged than people in country areas.

Adjunct Professor Kelly said that almost half of heart disease deaths can be attributed to hypertension. “We call high blood pressure the silent killer because there are no obvious signs or symptoms, and too many Australians are putting themselves at risk of a heart attack by not keeping it under control,” he said.

Close to six million – more than a third of Australian adults – have hypertension. Among those who are taking medication for hypertension, one in four (or 1.4 million) still have high blood pressure.

“While we don’t know for sure why high blood pressure in regional Australians is better managed, we know that they have higher rates of conditions such as obesity and diabetes, so they might see health professionals more often than people living in major metro areas.

“They also end to have a closer and longer-term relationship with their local GP, who knows their personal health history, compared to city dwellers, who are less likely to see the same GP every time.”

Few Australians (7%) are aware that high blood pressure is the largest risk factor for heart disease, and most are more likely to nominate stress and alcohol as risk factors, according to Heart Foundation research.

Adjunct Professor Kelly said everyone aged 45 years and over should have their blood pressure measured by a health professional at least every two years (from the age of 35 years for Indigenous Australians). “The good news is that simple changes like eating a healthy diet, being physically active and not smoking helps reduce high blood pressure. For some people, medication will be needed,” Adjunct Professor Kelly said. 

Key statistics

Location

Number of people with hypertension

(‘000)

% of people with hypertension

% of hypertensive people with unmanaged hypertension

Total

5,984.2

33.7%

44.3%

Metro

3,256.3

30.5%

51.7%

Regional / Rural Australia

2,727.9

38.6%

36.5%

Data Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Health Survey, 2014-15. Customised data 2017. The data are based on Australians aged 18 years of age and over and are not age standardised. Prevalence based on persons with high measured blood pressure (a systolic reading of 140 mmHg or more, and/or a diastolic reading of 90mmHg or more), or persons with low/normal measured blood pressure who reported they were taking hypertension medication.

For interviews with Adjunct Professor Kelly, please contact Karen Kissane, (03) 9090 2016, 0478 483 777, karen.kissane@heartfoundation.com.au

Local State and Territory statistics, spokespeople and case studies are available:

NSW AND ACT: Julia Power, (02) 9219 2426, 0478 313 656, julia.power@heartfoundation.com.au 

QLD, NT: Paula Lazzarini, (07) 3872 2537, 0427 619 589, paula.lazzarini@heartfoundation.com.au

STH AUST: Nikki Williams, (08) 8224 2851, 0401 234 469, nikki.williams@heartfoundation.com.au

TASMANIA: Bruce Ransley, (03) 6220 2203, bruce.ransley@heartfoundation.com.au

VICTORIA: Fleur Jacobs, 03 9321 1536, 0423 827 697, fleur.jacobs@heartfoundation.com.au

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Andrew Shipp, 08 9388 3343, andrew.shipp@heartfoundation.com.au

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