A new study indicates people who develop high blood pressure during middle age have a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, or related medical problems later in life.
It's pretty well established that having high blood pressure, or hypertension, puts you at higher risk of cardiovascular disease. But in this study, the researchers wanted to examine the effect of a change in blood pressure in early middle age - age 40 to 55 or so.
"People who develop hypertension during that time period actually have a higher lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease, as opposed to people who maintain a normal blood pressure during middle age," says Norrina Allen, of the Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago, who led the study.
Her study included data from tens of thousands of participants. Their blood pressure readings were tracked over a period of years, then the participants were followed as they aged to see if they had a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event.
Allen says an increase in blood pressure put people at considerably higher risk.
"So if you have hypertension by the time that you're age 55, you have an increase in your lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease, a 30 percent increase, compared with people who maintain normal levels of blood pressure throughout middle age."
And people in the study whose blood pressure went down during middle age had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Allen says the study suggests strategies for improving your odds of avoiding heart attack, stroke, and the like.
"It's important that early in life, starting around age 30 or 40, that we really focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, keeping our blood pressure within a normal range, and that will ultimately result in reducing our risk for cardiovascular disease down the road."
She says future research will focus on people whose blood pressure starts off normal, then increases, but is brought back down with the help of medication. Scientists want to better understand how blood pressure medicines affect the risk of cardiovascular disease.