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High Blood Pressure in Young Adults Could Lead to Heart Disease

  • Carol Pearson

February is heart health month, and a new study that provides clues to young people about keeping their hearts healthy. The study looks at high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. It finds that high blood pressure in people as young as 18 increases their risk for heart disease.

High blood pressure increases a person's risk of heart disease, no matter when they develop it. That's why doctors monitor blood pressure so carefully.

A new study finds that young adults in their teens and 20's who develop high blood pressure are more at risk for heart disease by the time they reach middle age, 35 to 50 years old, than those whose blood pressure is normal.

Dr. Norrina Allen at Northwestern University took over an ongoing study that started 25 years ago. The study followed blood pressure patterns of men and women between the ages of 18 and 30.

The nearly 5,000 participants fell into common patterns: those whose blood pressure stayed within normal limits; those whose blood pressure was consistently high, and those whose blood pressure rose gradually over time, to levels that were higher than normal, but not high enough for prescription medicines.

“Individuals who had increasing blood pressure in middle age or those who had high blood pressure by the time they hit middle age were at greater risk for development of heart disease by the time they were 50,” said Allen.

The researchers also tested to see whether calcium, formed in the arteries of the heart. Calcium build-up can lead to heart attacks.

“Individuals who had higher blood pressures, or those who increased their blood pressure from young adulthood through middle age, had a higher risk for this calcification, up to an almost four times higher risk,” said Allen.

Most of the young adults with high blood pressure had unhealthy lifestyles. They were overweight, ate fatty foods, didn't exercise, smoked or had a combination of these habits.

Two findings came out of this study, your blood pressure when you're young can affect you as you age, and tracking blood pressure from the late teens on could save lives.

"If we can identify which pattern an individual is likely to fall into, we may be able to identify who’s at risk for the development of heart disease and intervene before they actually develop heart disease,” said Allen.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Allen said the study is continuing and the researchers are now trying to find out how best to help patients with high blood pressure get healthier.
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