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Like the rest of the world, cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death in Australia, accounting for one in four deaths in 2019. According to the Heart Foundation around 120 people in Australia die from CVD each day, or one person every 12 minutes.

In a recent review of the evidence, researchers from New South Wales looked at the risk factors contributing to death and disability in Australia, focusing on the impact of raised systolic blood pressure compared to other major risk factors.

Data from the Global Burden of Disease study (GBD), collected between 1990 and 2019, were analysed to determine the impact of various risk factors on all-cause and cardiovascular deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs). GBD uses a variety of data sources, including country census records, surveys, and health records to model the impact of various factors on health outcomes over decades.

Raised systolic blood pressure (SBP) emerged as the leading risk factor for premature deaths in Australia, consistently ranking at the top across the period studied. It was also the primary contributor to cardiovascular deaths and DALYs, particularly affecting stroke-related health outcomes. In 1990, elevated SBP was responsible for 24% of all deaths in Australia, or about 29,000 people. This figure declined to 14% (21,845 deaths) in 2010 and was the same again, 14% (25,498 deaths), in 2019 – but was still the number one contributor to death in these time periods despite the overall decline from 1990. Similarly, the contribution of high blood pressure to deaths specifically related to cardiovascular issues followed a similar pattern, with high blood pressure responsible for 54% of CVD deaths in 1990 and 44% in both 2010 and 2019.

The authors say there is an urgent need to refocus healthcare on blood pressure control. They argue that it’s often seen as an “intermediate” factor which gets grouped with other health markers such as overweight or obesity to which lifestyle modifications (chiefly exercise and diet) are seen as the answer. They want to see more focus on blood pressure alone, both through raised awareness of high blood pressure as an issue (with many Australians unaware they have high blood pressure) and combination therapies in a single pill that make adherence easier.


Further information

The contribution of raised blood pressure to all-cause and cardiovascular deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) in Australia: Analysis of global burden of disease study from 1990 to 2019: PLOS Journals

Statistics and information on cardiovascular disease in Australia. Heart Foundation

High blood pressure should be treated:

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