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Blood pressure in early adulthood matters later

November 21, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • High blood pressure in early adulthood should be taken seriously, a new study shows.
High blood pressure in early adulthood should be taken seriously, a new… (Joe Raedle / Getty Images )

High blood pressure usually concerns only people middle-aged and older. But a new study suggests that high blood pressure in early adulthood spells future heart problems and that it shouldn't be ignored.

Researchers from the United States and United Kingdom followed almost 19,000 male students from Harvard who had their blood pressure measured when they entered college between 1914 and 1952. These men also responded to a health questionnaire mailed in the 1960s when they were an average age of almost 46. Assessments of death and cause of death were made in 1998.

The study found that regardless of one's blood pressure at middle age, having elevated blood pressure in college increased the risk of cardiovascular problems later in life. Every 13.1 mmHg increase in systolic blood pressure in early adulthood was linked to a 5% increased risk of death from any cause, an 8% risk of death from cardiovascular disease and 14% increased risk of death from coronary heart disease.

The study raises a dilemma for doctors by indicating that high blood pressure in young people should be treated. But doctors may hesitate to "label" a young person with a diagnosis that carries connotations of inferior health, said the authors of an editorial accompanying the study. They added: "Physicians may also have concerns about treating a risk factor such as hypertension when the benefits of such treatments may be several decades in the future and the long-term safety of medical treatment may be questioned."

National guidelines are clear on the issue: Hypertension should be treated regardless of age. Many young people, however, may be unaware that they have the condition or lack health insurance.

The study was published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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