Time to lower Australia’s blood pressure

Australia is falling behind on blood pressure management, according to a group of leading experts who have published an editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia.

While the number of Australians with high blood pressure isn’t increasing, those with high blood pressure make up over a third of the adult population (34%) – and many of them are not receiving proper treatment. If all of them were able to manage their high blood pressure properly, one estimate suggests that 83,000 lives could be saved. Reducing raised blood pressure rates by a quarter would save 37,000 lives.

“Blood pressure is the leading cause of death. Lots of people are not aware of that,” says lead author Professor Alta Schutte, a researcher at the George Institute for Global Health and the University of New South Wales.

“Raised blood pressure contributes to heart disease and stroke, and they remain our main causes of death here in Australia.”

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The researchers point out that other countries, such as the US and Canada, have started initiatives to improve their populations’ blood pressure. They believe Australia should follow suit.

“In the United States last year, […] the Surgeon General released a national call to action to improve blood pressure control rates, and here it’s much worse and nobody’s doing anything,” says Schutte.

The researchers believe that Australia’s blood pressure rates should be addressed at a population-wide scale, with the introduction of a national taskforce, improved research funding, and a number of public health initiatives.

“There’s not a single solution,” says Schutte.

She says that part of the work should be done in promoting diet and lifestyle factors that improve blood pressure at the population-wide scale.

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“And on the other hand, you need to improve the health system, especially primary care in your GP practices to make sure that they are enabled to detect raised blood pressure early – and when it’s detected, effectively treated.”

But first, more Australians need to be aware of their blood pressure levels. At the moment, many people don’t realise that they have raised blood pressure, and thus it’s harder to determine which remedies – either individual or population-wide – can address it.

A 2020 study found that 50% of Australians with high blood pressure weren’t aware of it.

“If you’re not aware of it, then you can’t do anything about it, so awareness is the first step,” says Schutte.

“Once that is covered, then you can start treating it. […] When you treat people and their blood pressure is not reduced sufficiently, then the treatment needs to be improved. And there are different ways of doing that. That’s where there’s a gap in Australia.”

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She adds that regular blood pressure checks, for children and adults, is “one of the most cost-effective things we can do”.

The authors believe that, while there are enthusiastic healthcare researchers and professionals who are willing to be involved in an effort like this, they need government support as well to bring Australia’s blood pressure down.

“While the government’s recent announcement of $40.5 million for a new Medicare Benefits Schedule item for 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure measurement to improve the diagnosis of hypertension is a good start, we believe there’s much more that could be done to address this pressing health issue,” says co-author Markus Schlaich, President of the High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia.

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