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Early Hypertension Increases Risk of Heart Disease

Medical researchers feel confident saying that obesity contributes to a multitude of health problems, including diabetes, some cancers and heart disease. Now new research examines the effect being overweight has on blood pressure in young adults and their subsequent development of heart disease.

Dr. Richard Devereux and colleagues around the United States studied about 2,000 American Indians between the ages of 15 and 39, measuring their blood pressure and amount of body fat. As a population, American Indians tend to be overweight and have higher rates of diabetes and heart disease than other groups.

Devereux explains, "We sought to assess the frequency of high blood pressure and of blood pressure that's uncomfortably high within the traditionally normal range, which is called pre-hypertension. And what we found was that hypertension was relatively frequent for such a young population, being present in 15 percent, and more than one third had pre-hypertension which is now considered an abnormal condition."

Devereux used ultrasound technology to look at the hearts of his research subjects. About 15 percent of those with high blood pressure and another 10 percent of people with pre-hypertension had abnormal increases in the amount of heart muscle. He says that is an important finding because increased amount of heart muscle is an extremely strong predictor of heart attacks, stroke and death in all populations in which it's been studied

Devereux says the heavier the subject was, the higher the chance of having high blood pressure or pre-hypertension. He also says males in the study were more likely to have the increased blood pressures than females.

Devereux says these findings point to yet another reason to maintain a healthy body weight. "Even at a young age, it's very important not to become overweight and particularly obese," he stresses, "because of the likelihood that will bring on hypertension or suboptimal levels of blood pressure called pre-hypertension and that these will in turn will cause changes in the heart that constitute a form of silent heart disease."

Devereux says the findings also point to a need for better and more aggressive treatments for young people with high blood pressure. The research appears in Circulation: the Journal of the American Heart Association.