May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month and Stroke Awareness Month. It makes sense to observe both in the same month because when you control your blood pressure, you reduce your risk of stroke —the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Unfortunately, 1 in 3 U.S. adults—an estimated 68 million of us—have high blood pressure, also called hypertension. This “silent killer” can damage the heart, brain, and kidneys without a single symptom.
Right now, half of those Americans with high blood pressure still don’t have it adequately controlled. African Americans are at particular risk—often having more severe hypertension, and developing it at younger ages.
Each year, more than 795,000 Americans have a stroke and more than 130,000 people in the United States die every year after a stroke—an average of one stroke-related death every 4 minutes.
Together, the financial costs of high blood pressure and stroke are staggering: annual costs of hypertension are $156 billion, with medical costs accounting for nearly $131 billion and lost productivity from illness and premature death of about $25 billion a year. Annual stroke costs to the nation are more than a billion dollars a week.
Fortunately, there are some things in life you can control—and blood pressure is one.
Helping Americans with high blood pressure get it under control to reduce strokes and other forms of cardiovascular disease is a high priority for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and through our national Million Hearts initiative, we are making a difference. Co-led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services—and in collaboration with many other government and private partners—we aim to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.
Million Hearts is working to reduce high blood pressure with a one-two punch; the first, focusing health care professionals, health systems, insurers, employers, and individuals on the link between good blood pressure control and good health and, the second, encouraging all Americans to know their blood pressure, monitor it regularly, and talk with their doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or community health worker about how to keep it in the normal range. From diet and physical activity to medications, there are easy, effective and economical ways to measure, routinely monitor, and control blood pressure.
Million Hearts is supported by the many improvements to health care provided by the health care law, the Affordable Care Act, which now strengthens the prevention of stroke by ensuring that many adult patients receive preventive services, including blood pressure screenings, at no cost.