U.S. doctors control blood pressure best

By Brittany Lavin
February 8, 2007

Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT

High blood pressure is better controlled in the United States than in five Western European countries, a study found. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago and Stanford University, was published in Archives of Internal Medicine on Jan. 22.

These findings show that the U.S. strategy of American doctors prescribing more drugs earlier. Overall, this saves more money due to the prevention of heart attacks and strokes.

However, other experts argue that, questioning the cost-effectiveness of treating mildly high blood pressure. They note that in the United States, only half of the hypertension patients did not attain blood pressure levels that met with the current guidelines.

“Substantial potential for better hypertension control and future costs savings exists in both Europe and the United States.” This is according to an article written for Science Daily.

A blood pressure reading of 140/90 or above is considered high. The higher the blood pressure the higher the risk of heart attacks, strokes and heart and kidney failure.

“I think it’s a good thing that doctors can help hypertension patients by catching it earlier, but I don’t think prescribing a lot of drugs is the best idea,” Jessica Gruber, a freshman English and secondary education major, said.

With the help of doctors’ reports, the researchers found that in the United States, the post-treatment average was 134/79. The readings in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain were all significantly higher, averaging at 142/82.

“Treating high blood pressure aggressively and early is a good thing, given the burden of hypertension among the population.” Dr. Caleb Alexander, the study co-author, said.

American doctors follow more aggressive guidelines and encourage early prescriptions, as well as the adding of more medications when one pill isn’t enough. The study showed that the use of more than one blood pressure prescription per patient was highest in the United States when compared to the five European countries.

“We found that U.S. physicians tended to have a lower threshold for beginning treatment and were more willing to increase the dose or add other medications when patients did not respond,” Dr. Richard Wang, the study’s lead author, said. “This is consistent with more aggressive treatment guidelines in the U.S.”

However, other experts believe that the study fails to account for many things, such as the potentially harmful side affects caused by aggressive treatments.

“Though blood pressure medication causes low blood pressure, it can also cause weakness, depression and chronic cough.” Dr. Lisa Schwartz of the VA Outcomes Group, made up of researchers trying to promote the straightforward presentation of medical information, said.

Also, the study does not include a representative sample of the nation’s people, but only looked at those who are specifically treated for hypertension. This excludes people who have yet to be diagnosed or Americans who are uninsured and cannot afford health care.

“It seems like a well informed study, but the fact that it doesn’t include those who haven’t been diagnosed yet makes me wonder how accurate it is,” John Jonas, a sophomore English and communication major, said.

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure affects more than 72 million adults in the United States. They average that Americans will spend up to $23 billion on blood pressure medicine this year.

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Brittany Lavin

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