Publication date: 
January 10, 2017

A new analysis of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study finds that almost 20% of global deaths are linked to increased systolic blood pressure 

SEATTLE – The number of people in the world with high blood pressure has doubled in the past two decades, putting billions at an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease, according to a new analysis of findings from the latest Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study.

The study examined the health burden associated with systolic blood pressure (SBP) in two ways. First, the researchers estimated health loss due to SBP greater than 140 mm Hg, a condition known as hypertension, which is often treated with medications. Next, they estimated health loss for SBP greater than 115 mm Hg, as previous evidence shows a link to serious health conditions above this level.

“While elevated blood pressure is a global problem, we found considerable variation between different countries and regions,” said Dr. Gregory Roth, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and the Division of Cardiology at the University of Washington.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle early in life will help maintain a normal blood pressure, and many individuals will also benefit from medications that lower blood pressure.

Key findings from the paper include:

  • Over 19% of all deaths in 2015 were linked to elevated SBP (greater than 115 mm Hg). Deaths from elevated SBP grew by an average of 1.6% per year between 1990 and 2015.
  • Countries of lower developmental status – measured by the Socio-demographic Index (SDI) – saw greater increases in the number of deaths linked to elevated SBP than the most developed countries. The largest percent increase in elevated SBP deaths between 1990 and 2015 occurred in low-middle countries (107%), and the most deaths occurred in high-middle SDI counties (2,844,499 deaths).
  • In regards to age and sex, more deaths in men were attributed to elevated SBP than deaths in women, at 5.6 million and 5.1 million in 2015, respectively. This trend was seen for every age group studied, except in people older than 80, where more women died of SBP-related illness than men.

“Health systems can use these findings to target the growing burden of elevated blood pressure,” explained Dr. Roth. “Countries need to build capacity by promoting healthy lifestyle choices and investing in systems that deliver cheap, effective health interventions like blood pressure-lowering medication.”

The study, “Global Burden of Hypertension and Systolic Blood Pressure of at Least 110 to 115 mm Hg, 1990-2015,” was published today in JAMA.

Note: The abbreviation mm Hg stands for millimeters of mercury, a measurement of blood pressure routinely used in medicine. The researchers looked at systolic blood pressure alone because recent studies have determined it to be a better predictor of health outcomes than diastolic blood pressure.

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Established in 2007, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is an independent global health research center at the University of Washington in Seattle that provides rigorous and comparable measurement of the world’s most important health problems and evaluates strategies to address them. IHME makes this information available so that policymakers, donors, practitioners, researchers, and local and global decision-makers have the evidence they need to make informed decisions about how to allocate resources to best improve population health. For more information, visit