Rising Hypertension, Cardiovascular Disease, In Latin America

Although cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death worldwide (an estimated 17.7 million deaths, annually), due to increased awareness and better treatment, incidence has actually been decreasing in “developed” countries, such as the United States. Latin America, however, has not seen this CVD regression, and a recent study suggests that rising incidence of high blood pressure (hypertension) might be the reason.

There are many risk factors for CVD, many connected to the leading killer of the CVD family, coronary heart disease. Obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, genetics and high blood pressure, are some of the leading risk factors for CVD. While some of these specific risk factors have been on the rise (especially diabetes), knowledge and treatment of these CVD have limited cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks, and further limited associated mortality. High blood pressure is one factor that has benefited from better diagnostic techniques and treatments, often leading to control or elimination of the problem, in developed countries.

Latin America, which includes Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, is most generally considered a “developing region.” This means there is significant and consistent economic growth in many of these nation states, such as Chile, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico, as well as improving standards of living, such as education and health care. In developed and developing nations, chronic diseases, such as CVD and diabetes (as opposed to non-chronic conditions like malaria, which threatens millions of lives in impoverished countries), demand a large portion of health care resources, with CVD “making up 11% of global disease burden.” Developing nations still suffer from many of the health concerns of impoverished nations as well, however, which has the potential of limiting health sector growth.

A recent study, which was a collaboration of researchers from Argentina, Mexico and Brazil, has shown that there has been a troubling rise in chronic high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) incidence throughout Latin America, despite an “upward trend” in general medical care and health, throughout the region. This observation adds to past research which has shown CVD incidence in Latin America has been either stagnant or growing, but not regressing, as in developed nations.

While the economic and societal growth of much of Latin America is promising, if the above observations are not addressed by those with influence, CVD and related conditions could become a massive problem and huge economic burden. Mexican investigator Dr. Luis Alcocer emphatically proclaims that “These dismal observations warrant a call to action for improved control of high BP and other cardiovascular risk factors across Latin America. Achieving these ambitious goals will require collaborative efforts by many groups, including policymakers, international organizations, healthcare providers, schools and society as a whole.”

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Alcocer, Luis. Mukherjee, Mithu. Therapeutic Advances in Cardivascular Disease news release. June 2009.