WMA Statement on Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease
Adopted by the 71st WMA General Assembly (online), Cordoba, Spain, October 2020
Hypertension is the single most important risk factor for cardiovascular death globally. It accounts for more deaths from cardiovascular disease than any other modifiable risk factor. More than half of people who die from coronary heart disease and stroke had hypertension. “As populations age, adopt more sedentary lifestyles, and increase their body weight, the prevalence of hypertension worldwide will continue to rise.
Uncontrolled hypertension is a major cause of stroke and other co-morbid, chronic conditions, such as heart failure, kidney disease, vision loss, or mild cognitive impairment. Because hypertension can be asymptomatic, it may often go undiagnosed.
In 2010, hypertension emerged as the leading risk factor for disease burden in every region of the world. Moreover, elevated systolic blood pressure (SBP) is a leading global health risk. The WHO Global Plan of Action for the prevention of non-communicable diseases calls for a 25% reduction in the prevalence of elevated blood pressure by 2025.
Worldwide prevalence of hypertension has grown significantly over the past four decades, and most with hypertension are not achieving optimal control.
Of concern is an increasing disparity in hypertension prevalence between high-income and low/middle–income countries. Almost three times as many people with hypertension live in low/middle–income countries than in high-income countries. Low-income countries in south Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and central and eastern Europe, are particularly impacted. Moreover, the prevalence of elevated blood pressure was highest in certain regions of Africa in both sexes.
Hypertension risk factors are attributes that increase the likelihood of developing the disease. Risk factors include the following:
- Lifestyle/Diet: Unavailability of healthy food choices, lack of access to safe neighborhoods for exercising, and unhealthy lifestyle habits can raise the risk of hypertension. Unhealthy lifestyle habits include unhealthy eating patterns such as eating too much sodium and highly processed food, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, and being physically inactive.
- Age: Blood pressure (BP) tends to increase with age. However, the risk of hypertension is increasing for children and teens, possibly due to the rise in the number of children and teens who are overweight or obese.
- Socioeconomic Status: In high-income countries, the greatest absolute burden of hypertension disease is in age groups 60 years and older, whereas in low/middle-income countries, the greatest absolute burden is in the middle-aged groups, such as 40 to 59 years. The age-standardized prevalence of hypertension is higher in low/middle-income countries than in high-income countries.
- Sex: Before age 55, men are more likely than women to develop hypertension. After age 55, women are more likely than men to develop it.
- Genetics/Family History: Research has identified many gene variations associated with small increases in the risk of developing hypertension. Some people are genetically predisposed to dietary sodium sensitivity.
Accurate blood pressure measurement
The accurate measurement of BP—both within the clinical setting and at home—is essential for the diagnosis and management of hypertension. In many countries, national clinical guidelines recommend how to achieve an accurate BP measurement and offer best practice recommendations.
Policies and actions at the global, national, and local levels are necessary to recognize and combat hypertension. Much effort is needed worldwide to improve awareness, treatment, and control for all populations. Current guidelines to diagnose and treat hypertension, and evidence-based guidance on the importance of proper BP measurement, offer anchors for national policies on BP measurement and control. Implementation can make significant progress towards lowering global hypertension prevalence and improving patient outcomes. To address the risk factors for hypertension, policies should also focus on addressing socioeconomic, lifestyle and dietary factors which contribute to the development of the disease.
- The World Medical Association recommends that national governments:
- Recognize hypertension as the single most important risk factor for cardiovascular disease and death.
- Declare hypertension control a national health priority.
- Support campaigns to raise public awareness of hypertension, including recognition of its widespread and asymptomatic nature, and its risk of contributing to development of other serious diseases.
- Deploy adequate resources to improve hypertension awareness, diagnosis, measurement, and management.
- Develop country-specific strategies which address the risk factors for hypertension and advocate for improvements in awareness, diagnosis, measurement and management.
- Promote the recommendations adopted by the WMA as stated in the Statement on Reducing Dietary Sodium Intake.
- The World Medical Association recommends that its constituent members:
- Advocate at the international, national, and local levels to promote hypertension awareness, healthy lifestyles, and patient access to hypertension diagnosis and treatment including medications. This includes supporting the concept that social determinants of health are part of hypertension disease prevention.
- Recognize and support national guidelines and strategies for measuring BP accurately.
- Support the exchange of hypertension research, information, tools, and other resources amongst healthcare teams and patients.
- Support the development of medical curricula that respond to societal hypertension needs with a focus on community-based primary care training and BP measurement and management skills.
- Promote research on the causes, mechanisms and effective treatments of hypertension.
- Advocate for sustained availability antihypertensive medications.
- The World Medical Association recommends that physicians:
- Emphasize the risk factors for hypertension and ways to mitigate them, paying special attention to prevention and treatment in high-risk populations.
- Emphasize team-based care to help prevent and, where it has been diagnosed by a physician, to treat hypertension.
- Implement BP measurement best practices and techniques, including training and retraining of all healthcare team members.
- Promote patient hypertension treatment adherence by facilitating ongoing patient BP self-management and involvement in the patient’s own care.