A new study of hypertension treatment trends found that uncontrolled high blood pressure along with considerable undertreatment of the condition were prevalent in individuals with a history of both hypertension and stroke. “To our knowledge, the present study is the first to analyze and report national antihypertensive medication trends exclusively among individuals with a history of stroke in the United States,” wrote Daniel Santos, MD, and Mandip S. Dhamoon, MD, DrPH, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. Their study was published in JAMA Neurology.

To examine blood pressure control and treatment trends among stroke survivors, the researchers examined more than a decade of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The cross-sectional survey is conducted in 2-year cycles; the authors analyzed the results from 2005 to 2016 and uncovered a total of 4,971,136 eligible individuals with a history of both stroke and hypertension.

The mean age of the study population was 67.1 (95% confidence interval, 66.1-68.1), and 2,790,518 (56.1%) were women. Their mean blood pressure was 134/68 mm Hg (95% CI, 133/67–136/69), and the average number of antihypertensive medications they were taking was 1.8 (95% CI, 1.7-1.9). Of the 4,971,136 analyzed individuals, 4,721,409 (95%) were aware of their hypertension diagnosis yet more than 10% of that group had not previously been prescribed an antihypertensive medication.

More than 37% (n = 1,846,470) of the participants had uncontrolled high blood pressure upon examination (95% CI, 33.5%-40.8%), and 15.3% (95% CI, 12.5%-18.0%) were not taking any medication for it at all. The most commonly used antihypertensive medications included ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (59.2%; 95% CI, 54.9%-63.4%), beta-blockers (43.8%; 95% CI, 40.3%-47.3%), diuretics (41.6%; 95% CI, 37.3%-45.9%) and calcium-channel blockers (31.5%; 95% CI, 28.2%-34.8%).* Roughly 57% of the sample was taking more than one antihypertensive medication (95% CI, 52.8%-60.6%) while 28% (95% CI, 24.6%-31.5%) were taking only one.

Continued surveillance is key

“All the studies that have ever been done show that hypertension is inadequately treated,” Louis Caplan, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, both in Boston, said in an interview. “One of the reasons is that it can be hard to get some of the patients to seek treatment, particularly Black Americans. Also, a lot of the medicines to treat high blood pressure have side effects, so many patients don’t want to take the pills.

“Treating hypertension really requires continued surveillance,” he added. “It’s not one visit where the doctor gives you a pill. It’s taking the pill, following your blood pressure, and seeing if it works. If it doesn’t, then maybe you change the dose, get another pill, and are followed once again. That doesn’t happen as often as it should.”

In regard to next steps, Dr. Caplan urged that hypertension “be evaluated more seriously. Even as home blood pressure kits and monitoring become increasingly available, many doctors are still going by a casual blood pressure test in the office, which doesn’t tell you how serious the problem is. There needs to be more use of technology and more conditioning of patients to monitor their own blood pressure as a guide, and then we go from there.”

The authors acknowledged their study’s limitations, including the NHANES’s reliance on self-reporting a history of stroke and the inability to distinguish between subtypes of stroke. In addition, they noted that many antihypertensive medications have uses beyond treating hypertension, which introduces “another confounding factor to medication trends.”

The authors and Dr. Caplan reported no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Santos D et al. JAMA Neurol. 2020 Jul 27. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2020.2499.

Correction, 8/20/20: An earlier version of this article misstated the confidence interval for diuretics.