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High blood pressure—also known as hypertension—is a major risk factor for chronic diseases including stroke, coronary heart disease, heart failure and chronic kidney disease. High blood pressure is also a cardiovascular disease in its own right. The risk factors for high blood pressure include poor diet (particularly a high salt intake), obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and insufficient physical activity. High blood pressure can be controlled with lifestyle measures and medication to reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Box 1: How is high blood pressure measured?

Blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood on the walls of the arteries and is written as systolic/diastolic (e.g. 120/80 mmHg, stated as '120 over 80').

The World Health Organization defines high blood pressure as including any of the following [1]:

  • systolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mmHg, or
  • diastolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 90 mmHg, or
  • receiving medication for high blood pressure.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2011–12 Australian Health Survey (AHS) measured blood pressure at the time of the interview, and the definitions listed above were used in defining high blood pressure in the results presented here. 'Uncontrolled high blood pressure' is defined as measured systolic blood pressure of 140 mmHg or more, or diastolic blood pressure of 90 mmHg or more, irrespective of the use of blood pressure medication [2].

Who has high blood pressure?

Based on measured data from the 2011–12 AHS, almost 1 in 3 people aged 18 and over (32%) have high blood pressure. This is comprised of:

  • 22% with uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • 10% whose blood pressure was controlled using medication/s.

The average systolic blood pressure is higher for men (126 mmHg) than for women (120 mmHg). The average diastolic blood pressures are similar for men and women (77 and 76 mmHg) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Blood pressure, persons aged 18 and over, by sex, 2011–12

2 stacked line charts (systolic high blood pressure (less than or equal to 140 mmHg); (diastolic high blood pressure (less than or equal to 90 mmHg); showing for (men, women); blood pressure (mmHg) on the x axis; per cent (0 to25) on the y axis.

Note: Excludes persons for whom blood pressure was not measured or a valid reading was not obtained.

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS 'Microdata: Australian Health Survey, Core Content—Risk Factors and Selected Health Conditions, 2011–12.

A higher proportion of men (34%) than women (29%) have high blood pressure (Figure 2). The proportion of adults with high blood pressure increases with age―from less than 10% among 18-24 year-olds (8% for men and 6% for women) to a peak of around 80% (80% for men and 83% for women) at age 75 and over.

Figure 2: Prevalence of high blood pressure in persons aged 18 and over, by sex, 2011–12

Vertical bar chart showing (men, women); age group (18-24 to 75plus years) on the x axis; per cent (0 to 100) on the y axis.

Note: Excludes persons for whom blood pressure was not measured or a valid reading was not obtained.

Source: AIHW analysis of unpublished ABS 'Australian Health Survey 2011–12 (National Health Measures Survey Component)' (see source data).

Inequalities

High blood pressure is most prevalent in the population living in Inner regional areas (40% of men and 32% of women) and is more common in areas of most disadvantage. Thirty six per cent of people living in the most disadvantaged areas have high blood pressure, compared with 28% of people living in the least disadvantaged areas.

Figure 3: Prevalence of high blood pressure in persons aged 18 and over, by sex, by selected population characteristics, 2011–12

Horizontal bar chart showing (men, women); per cent (0 to 50) on the x axis;  population subgroup on the y axis

Notes:

  1. Excludes persons for whom blood pressure was not measured or a valid reading was not obtained.
  2. Q1–Q5 refers to area-based quintiles classified according to Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas 2011 (SEIFA 2011), specifically the Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage (IRSD).

Source: AIHW analysis of unpublished ABS 'Australian Health Survey 2011–12 (National Health Measures Survey Component)' (see source data).

International comparisons

The World Health Organization reported that an estimated 19% of Australians aged 18 and over had high blood pressure in 2014 (based on systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure only) [3]. This was a lower proportion than most other OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), and lower than the average across the 34 OECD countries (25%).

Korea had the lowest proportion (13%), followed by Canada and the United States (both 17%), while central and eastern European countries including Hungary, the Slovak Republic, Poland, Slovenia and Estonia had the highest (all above 31%).


Source data

References

  1. Whitworth JA 2003. 2003 World Health Organization/International Society of Hypertension statement on management of hypertension. Journal of Hypertension 21:1983-92.
  2. ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics). Australian Health Survey: users' guide, 2011–13. ABS cat. no. 4363.0.55.001. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  3. WHO (World Health Organization) 2014. WHO global health observatory data repository. Raised blood pressure (SBP ≥ 140 OR DBP ≥ 90). Date by country. Geneva: World Health Organization. Viewed 11 September 2015.

Further information