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Mar 06, 2012

Controlling Prehypertension to Prevent Heart Disease

Elevated cholesterol can increase lifetime risk for atrial fibrillation.

Hypertension is extremely common in the United States, affecting roughly 1 in 3 adults. Despite lifestyle changes and medication, many adults fail to manage their blood pressure effectively, greatly increasing their risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Findings from a recent study may be surprising for many, showing that even those with slightly high blood pressure could face greater cardiovascular risks than they may realize.

A study appearing in the February issue of Hypertension reports that having blood pressure in the high-normal range could greatly increase lifetime risk for atrial fibrillation—a heart rhythm disorder that can lead to stroke and other heart-related complications. In this study, Norwegian researchers followed about 2,000 men for an average of 30 years, monitoring their blood pressure and cardiovascular outcomes. While men with diagnosed hypertension (systolic blood pressure reading greater than 140) at the start of the study were 60% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation over the next 30 years, men with borderline high blood pressure (128-138) were not far behind, with a 50% increase in risk of atrial fibrillation. And men with diastolic readings of 80 or higher were 79% more likely than those with lower diastolic blood pressure to develop atrial fibrillation over the next three decades.

What these findings mean is that even those with prehypertension, and not clinical hypertension, have significantly increased risk for atrial fibrillation later in life, and that’s not all. Although this particular study looked at atrial fibrillation alone, even having slightly high blood pressure could greatly increase risk for other cardiovascular conditions and cardiac events. That is why controlling blood pressure should be a key concern for all adults, and anyone with elevated blood pressure should work with their health care team to achieve the most optimal blood pressure levels possible to minimize their cardiovascular risks in the near future and beyond.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the difference between hypertension and prehypertension?

  • Those considered “prehypertensive” have blood pressure levels greater than what’s considered “normal,” but not high enough to be considered hypertensive. For most adults, normal blood pressure is a systolic (top number) less than 120 and a diastolic (bottom number) less than 80.
  • What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

  • High blood pressure often has no symptoms, which is why it is called the “silent killer.” Because hypertension only causes some symptoms like dizziness or headaches when it reaches a severe stage, it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly, especially if you have a family history of heart disease or high blood pressure.

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