WHO global health days

Campaign essentials

World Health Day 2013: Control your blood pressure

Key messages

The problem

High blood pressure (also known as raised blood pressure or hypertension) can lead to heart attack, stroke and other serious health problems. It affects more than one in three adults and leads to more than nine million deaths worldwide every year. High blood pressure can also cause kidney failure, blindness, rupture of blood vessels and brain impairment.

Many people do not know that they have high blood pressure because it does not always cause symptoms. Even though it is easily diagnosed and treated, many people do not have access to basic health services, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

The solution

High blood pressure is both preventable and treatable.

Controlling high blood pressure, together with other risk factors, is the main way to prevent heart attack and stroke.

The risk of developing high blood pressure can be minimized by: cutting down on salt; eating a balanced diet; avoiding harmful use of alcohol; getting regular exercise; and avoiding tobacco use.

For many people, lifestyle changes are sufficient to control blood pressure. For others, medication is required. Inexpensive medication exists, which is effective when taken as prescribed.

It is essential that detection and control of high blood pressure (measurement, health advice and treatment), are coupled with simultaneous reduction of other risk factors that cause heart attacks and strokes, such as diabetes and tobacco use. They should be core elements of primary health care in all countries, and integral to efforts to reduce the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases.

Civil society has an important role to play in helping to address high blood pressure.

Industry can contribute to the solution, for example, by reducing salt in processed food and making essential diagnostics and medicines more affordable.

Early detection is key; all adults should know their blood pressure.

Facts and figures

  • More than one in three adults worldwide has high blood pressure, with the proportion going up to one in two for people aged 50 and above.
  • The number of people with hypertension rose from 600 million in 1980 to 1 billion in 2008.
  • Complications of high blood pressure account for more than 9 million deaths worldwide every year. This includes 51% of deaths due to strokes and 45% of deaths due to coronary heart disease.
  • The prevalence of high blood pressure is highest in the African Region at 46%. The lowest prevalence is in the Americas Region at 35%. Globally, overall prevalence of high blood pressure in adults aged 25 and older was around 40% in 2008.