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Nov 21, 2011

High Blood Pressure in Early Adulthood

Blood pressure control especially important for young adults.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a well-established risk factor for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because nearly one-third of adults in the United States don’t even know they have it. Why not? Most of the time, high blood pressure has no symptoms and is only found during regular check-ups with primary care physicians. While hypertension is a huge issue among middle-age adults, lack of awareness about elevated blood pressure during early adulthood may be equally as important.

While little is known about the impact of high blood pressure early in life on future cardiovascular health, results from a Harvard study beginning nearly a century ago has helped shed some light on this issue. This study, known as the Harvard Alumni Health Study, involved nearly 19,000 male students enrolling in college between 1914 and 1952. Study members had their blood pressure checked upon enrollment into school and were tracked until 1998, completing questionnaires about their health along the way. After analysis, researchers found that high blood pressure in early adulthood was associated with significantly increased risk for death from heart disease, cardiovascular disease and all-cause death decades later.

The implications of this study are huge. Most evidence around blood pressure and cardiovascular risk is among middle-age adults rather than younger individuals. However, this study shows that controlling blood pressure during young adulthood may be key to cardiovascular risk reduction later in life. Since many young adults are unaware of their hypertension status, better awareness around blood pressure is needed. It may have a big pay-off later in life.
Read this Article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Are young adults at risk for high blood pressure?
  • Yes. Risk for hypertension increases with age as the arteries stiffen. However, young adults can have hypertension because there are many other factors that affect blood pressure, such as family history and stress.

  • How can I reduce my risk for hypertension?

  • There are a variety of ways to reduce risk for hypertension, such as eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking (if you smoke), limiting sodium intake, reducing stress and maintaining a healthy weight. For those already diagnosed with hypertension, these lifestyle changes can also be effective in treating and controlling the condition, sometimes in conjunction with certain blood pressure medications.

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