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Blood pressure threat ‘biggest killer’

US expert warns of increase in blood pressure deaths, if current trends are not reversed.

A leading US-based physician has warned that high blood pressure and associated blood vessel disease are spiraling out of control across the Middle East.

Dr Matthew Weir, director of the Division of Nephrology in the Department of Medicine at the University of Maryland Hospital, Baltimore, told a conference in Dubai that a combination of poor diets, a sedentary lifestyle and a lack of awareness among the general population will make high blood pressure the biggest cause of death in this region if trends are not reversed.

“In recent years, high blood pressure has emerged as a serious health problem that affects millions in the Pan-Arab region,” he explained.
“If left untreated, it can cause the heart to eventually overwork itself to the point where the heart, brain, eyes and even kidneys could be seriously damaged.”

Doctor and patient awareness campaigns, supported by pharmaceutical company sanofi aventis, are being rolled out across the Middle East. This education is key to reversing the ever-increasing incidence of high blood pressure and its related conditions. “Physicians have a responsibility to educate their patients about the most effective treatment available,” said Dr Weir.

Lifestyle changes can prevent and reverse increases in blood pressure, but Dr Weir cautioned that medical intervention was almost always necessary as well. “Patients can be told to change their lifestyle, but very few actually do. Medication has proven to be a far more successful solution,” he said.

Early diagnosis and treatment is also key, he added. For every 10 mmHg over a perfect blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg, Dr Weir suggested that one type of medication would be required to bring it down (although hypertension is rarely diagnosed until blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg is recorded). A patient whose blood pressure is 30 mmHg too high might require a cocktail of three medications to bring it down.

He suggested that patients, particularly those with a family history of high blood pressure, should be tested in their thirties, or even twenties. If problems are discovered, a treatment strategy can then be devised to manage the condition without any undesirable side effects.

Dr Weir said that kidney function is increasingly being used as an additional indicator for blood vessel disease brought on by high blood pressure. Protein in the urine can be measured over time to give a view of the rate of blood vessel deterioration, he explained, and this can be very useful in planning a treatment strategy.

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