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Jan 26, 2015

High Systolic Blood Pressure Increases Heart Risk in Young Adults

Having a high systolic blood pressure increases risk of heart disease and death in young adults, even when diastolic blood pressure is normal.

Having a high systolic blood pressure increases risk of heart disease and death in young adults, even when diastolic blood pressure is normal, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Doctors typically use an inflatable arm cuff to measure blood pressure, which is recorded in millimeters of mercury (abbreviated as “mmHg”) and has two numbers. The top number, called systolic blood pressure, measures pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number, called diastolic blood pressure, refers to blood pressure when the heart is at rest. When patients have a blood pressure above normal (120/80 mmHg), they are considered to have prehypertension or hypertension.

However, it’s possible to have a high systolic blood pressure and a normal diastolic blood pressure, or vice versa. Having a high systolic blood pressure and normal diastolic blood pressure, referred to as isolated systolic hypertension, is actually common among older adults and can lead to serious health problems. And research suggests that isolated systolic hypertension may be on the rise in young adults, potentially putting millions of individuals at risk for heart disease and stroke.

To learn more about isolated systolic hypertension in young adults, researchers analyzed data from the Chicago Heart Association Detection Project in Industry Study, which tracked the health of more than 25,000 young adults for 30 years. After comparing the blood pressure and health outcomes of participants, researchers found that among women, isolated systolic hypertension more than doubled risk of death and increased risk of heart disease by 55%. In men, isolated systolic hypertension increased risk of heart disease by 23% and heart-related death by 28%. Among both men and women, isolated systolic hypertension increased heart risks just as much or more than having higher than normal overall blood pressure.

National data shows that isolated systolic hypertension is becoming increasingly common among young adults, and study findings raise concern about its effect on heart health. Isolated systolic hypertension is often overlooked in young and middle-aged adults, as most studies on the issue involve older adults, among whom the condition is most common. But current findings suggest that isolated systolic hypertension does, in fact, have a serious impact on the cardiovascular health of young adults. As such, researchers encourage future research to better identify and treat young adults with isolated systolic hypertension who are at greatest risk for heart events.

Read the full study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is hypertension?
  • Hypertension, often referred to as high blood pressure, occurs when the force of blood against the artery walls is too high. High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer,” because it often causes no symptoms and if left uncontrolled, increases risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • What is isolated systolic hypertension?
  • Isolated systolic hypertension occurs when the top number of a blood pressure reading (systolic blood pressure) is high and the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) is normal. Isolated systolic hypertension is most common along older adults, but is also found in young and middle-aged adults. It’s important for patients with isolated systolic hypertension to work with their doctors to determine the best possible treatment to achieve a healthy blood pressure and reduce risk of complications.

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