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Hypertension is one of the leading causes of the global burden of disease. Approximately 7.6 million deaths (13–15% of the total) and 92 million disability-adjusted life years worldwide were attributable to high blood pressure in 2001. Hypertension doubles the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including coronary heart disease (CHD), congestive heart failure (CHF), ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, renal failure, and peripheral arterial disease. It often is associated with additional cardiovascular disease risk factors, and the risk of cardiovascular disease increases with the total burden of risk factors. Although antihypertensive therapy clearly reduces the risks of cardiovascular and renal disease, large segments of the hypertensive population are either untreated or inadequately treated.

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Blood pressure levels, the rate of age-related increases in blood pressure, and the prevalence of hypertension vary among countries and among subpopulations within a country. Hypertension is present in all populations except for a small number of individuals living in primitive, culturally isolated societies. In industrialized societies, blood pressure increases steadily during the first two decades of life. In children and adolescents, blood pressure is associated with growth and maturation. Blood pressure "tracks" over time in children and between adolescence and young adulthood. In the United States, average systolic blood pressure is higher for men than for women during early adulthood, although among older individuals the age-related rate of rise is steeper for women. Consequently, among individuals age 60 and older, systolic blood pressures of women are higher than those of men. Among adults, diastolic blood pressure also increases progressively with age until ~55 years, after which it tends to decrease. The consequence is a widening of pulse pressure (the difference between systolic and diastolic blood pressure) beyond age 60. The probability that a middle-aged or elderly individual will develop hypertension in his or her lifetime is 90%.

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In the United States, based on results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), approximately 30% (age-adjusted prevalence) of adults, or at least 65 million individuals, have hypertension (defined as any one of the following: systolic blood pressure ≥140 mmHg, diastolic blood pressure ≥90 mmHg, taking antihypertensive medications). Hypertension prevalence is 33.5% in non-Hispanic blacks, 28.9% in non-Hispanic whites, and 20.7% in Mexican Americans. The likelihood of hypertension increases with age, and among individuals age ≥60, the prevalence is 65.4%. Recent evidence suggests that the prevalence of hypertension in the United States may be increasing, possibly as a consequence of increasing obesity. The prevalence of hypertension and stroke mortality rates are higher in the southeastern United States than in other regions. In African Americans, hypertension appears earlier, is generally more severe, and results in higher rates of morbidity and mortality from stroke, left ventricular hypertrophy, CHF, and end-stage renal disease (ESRD) than in white Americans.

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Both environmental and genetic factors may contribute to regional and racial variations in blood pressure and hypertensionprevalence. Studies of societies undergoing "acculturation" and studies of migrants from a less to a more urbanized setting ...

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