Background: Two North American population based surveys, the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) and the Canadian Heart Health Surveys (CHHS) have similar time frames and methods that allow comparisons between these countries in terms of the distribution of systolic (SBP) and diastolic (DBP) blood pressure and the levels of hypertension awareness, treatment, and control.
Methods: Cross-sectional population surveys using similar methods conducted home interviews and clinic visits (CHHS), and medical examinations (NHANES III). The CHHS included the ten Canadian provinces (1986-1992) and NHANES III, a representative sample of the United States population (1988-1994). Blood pressure measurements were available for 23,111 Canadians (age 18-74 years), and restricted to the 15,326 US participants in the same age range (age 18-74 years) with both systolic and diastolic mean values. Standardized techniques were used for BP measurements. Mean of all available measurements was used from four measurements for the CHHS and six measurements for NHANES III. A mean SBP/DBP of 140/90 mm Hg or treated with medication defined hypertension. All measures were weighted to represent population values.
Results: Both surveys showed similar trends in mean BP by age, with slightly higher levels in the CHHS. Hypertension prevalence using the same definitions and the same age range (18-74 years) was NHANES III: 20.1%, CHHS: 21.1%. Although the prevalence of isolated systolic hypertension (ISH) was similar in both studies, around 8% to 9%, the CHHS had higher ISH prevalence than NHANES III in the younger age groups and lower prevalence in the older age groups. Elevated SBP dominated the prevalence figures after the 1950s in both studies. Compared to NHANES III, the CHHS showed a lower proportion (43% v 50%) of individuals with optimal BP (< 120/80 mm Hg) and a very low proportion of hypertensives under control (13% v 25%). About half of diabetic participants were hypertensive (using 140/90 mm Hg) in both countries with a very low level of control in Canada (9%) v the US (36%) for ages 18 to 74 years.
Conclusions: The results of these two surveys highlight the importance of SBP, in the later decades of life, an overall low control of hypertension in both countries, and a better overall awareness, treatment, and control of hypertension in the US than in Canada for that period. Dissemination of hypertension guidelines and a more aggressive focus on SBP are urgently needed in Canada, with special attention to diabetics.