Millions ignorant of high blood pressure
About one in six mainlanders has high blood pressure, but because there is little public awareness of the disease fewer than 10 per cent of sufferers have their problem under control.
Of 230 million hypertension patients, only 48.4 per cent know that they have it, 38.5 per cent are taking medication for it, and 9.5 per cent have reduced their blood pressure to an acceptable level, according to last year's Ministry of Health prevention and treatment guidelines obtained by Guo Jizhen, a senior health education professor at Shanghai's Ruijin Hospital.
The figures are a big improvement on those in 2002, when 30.2 per cent knew they had it, 24.7 per cent took medication and 6.1 per cent had it under control, but the latest figures are still low compared with last year's US totals - about 80 per cent, 75 per cent and 40 per cent respectively.
Every year on the mainland, 3 million people die of heart disease and blood vessel problems - about one third of the total deaths. Half of these cardiovascular deaths are hypertension-related. More than 7 million people suffer a stroke, according to the Report on Cardiovascular Diseases in China (2008-2009).
Guo said many mainlanders did not care about blood pressure. Even if they develop hypertension, they think it will not affect their everyday lives if symptoms are not serious.
'Some people diagnosed with hypertension don't even have medicine, and their belief is that since this disease is a lifelong one, it's better to take drugs later rather than earlier. Many Chinese believe every medicine has side effects, and they fear more drugs will hurt their health.'
Many did not have their blood pressure tested regularly, Guo said.
Her research shows that the number of cases of high blood pressure has risen rapidly on the mainland in the past two decades, particularly in the 35 to 45 age group. The number of hypertension patients has soared 62 to 74 per cent every year in the past decade and the growth rate for people aged 65 to 75 was 15 to 18 per cent.
Guo said many middle-aged people were stressed, did little exercise, had unhealthy diets, smoked and drank alcohol.
Dr Zou Yunzeng, a cardiology specialist at Zhongshan Hospital in Shanghai, said more than one-third of his patients were younger than 40. When he told them to change their lifestyles, they said that was impossible because of fierce competition at work.
'Some are under a misconception and ask whether I can help them eradicate their disease,' Zou said. 'I tell them that high blood pressure can only be controlled.'
The number of teenagers with hypertension was also increasing, medical experts said.
Dr Zu Lingyun, of Peking University No 3 Hospital, said one-tenth of her patients were minors. Before 2000, she rarely saw such cases. Zu blamed high-fat, high-calorie and high-salt diets.
With hypertension harming the heart, brain, blood vessels and kidneys, 'high blood pressure is a silent killer', Zu said. By the time symptoms of diseased organs emerged, it would be too late for treatment.