Hypertension is killing Utahns as the second-most costly disease in the state

Published: Tuesday, July 10 2012 7:33 p.m. MDT

High blood pressure continues to plague Utahns as the second-most costly disease in the state.

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SALT LAKE CITY — High blood pressure continues to plague Utahns as the second-most costly disease in the state.

According to a report released Tuesday by the Utah Department of Health, hypertension is believed to affect nearly 1-in-4 Utah adults and has an annual treatment cost of more than $111 million. Diabetes, the top contender for medical costs in the state, requires more than $202 million each year.

High blood pressure also contributes to Utah's leading cause of death — heart disease. In 2010, heart disease killed 3,554 Utahns, according to the Utah Death Certificate Database.

Hypertension also is a major risk factor for stroke, the state's third leading cause of death, said Athena Carolan, a health specialist with the health department's Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program.

Approximately 60,380 Utahns were treated in 2010 for high blood pressure — a systolic pressure of 140 mmHg (millimeter of mercury) or higher or a diastolic blood pressure of 90 mmHg or higher. It is the most common primary diagnosis in the United States and is "closely connected with other expensive chronic diseases," according to the report.

"It is often overlooked because it produces no health symptoms, but then it leads to these catastrophic health events that affect people in the long term and are even more costly," Carolan said.

The condition is evasive in that it is relatively safe and easy to treat, but more than one-third of Utah's insured patients do not have their hypertension under control, with a blood pressure reading of 120 over 80 or lower.

About two-thirds of Utah adults with high blood pressure report taking medication for it, and seven in 10 are seeing a doctor for the often "neglected disease," as it has been called by the Institute of Medicine.

"Current trends don't show a decrease in the disease, but current programs are working with people to get the numbers down," Carolan said. "It's individuals caring about their own health, in addition to working with health clinics to improve patient follow-up and that kind of thing that will impact the rates in the future."

Weight loss, reduced sodium intake, healthy eating and increased physical activity can lower the incidence of high blood pressure by up to 8 percent and ultimately lead to better outcomes for individuals, she said.

High blood pressure continues to be a problem due to the nation's rising overweight and obese populations, high sodium intake and low levels of physical activity.

"We anticipate that through increased programs and awareness in general that people will go and have their blood pressure checked and be more diligent in keeping it under control," Carolan said. "It is important in terms of impacting death and disability in the state of Utah."

The report can be found online, at www.health.utah.gov.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com Twitter: wendyleonards

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