High Blood Pressure Earlier in Life Has a Lasting Impact

New research suggests that having high blood pressure and elevated LDL cholesterol at a young age may increase the risk of heart disease, even if these factors are controlled later in life.

Monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol levels might be a low priority for many young adults. However, a new study suggests that young people may want to pay more attention to these cardiovascular disease risk factors, as they may impact heart health later.

The research, published on December 20 in PLOS One, analyzed 136,648 participants for low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, 135,431 participants for systolic blood pressure (SBP), and 24,052 individuals for coronary heart disease (CHD) to determine if LDL and SBP impacted the risk of heart disease throughout life.

After analyzing the data, the scientists discovered that having higher SBP and LDL levels at a younger age — 55 years or younger — was associated with a higher risk of heart disease. What's more, this risk stayed elevated even if participants lowered their SBP and LDL levels later in life.

The researchers suggest that these findings support the importance of lifelong risk factor control in young individuals, as the risk of cardiovascular disease accumulates throughout life. In addition, the study's authors say more emphasis on treating young adults with high LDL and SBP is needed to lower their chances of developing heart disease as they age.

Should younger people take medications to lower cholesterol and blood pressure?

While the study highlights the need to control LDL and SBP in young people, the scientists note that treating individuals in this age group with cholesterol and blood pressure-lowering drugs may raise safety concerns, as few studies have examined using these medications in young adults.

For example, in a 2022 review of research, investigators concluded that more studies are needed to clarify the best way to lower LDL levels in younger people.

Moreover, a 2019 study published in Hypertension noted that the safety and efficacy of antihypertensive therapy among young adults is unknown, mainly due to the lack of randomized trials.

Still, reports suggest that a person can help lower their blood pressure by eating a healthy diet, losing weight if they have a high BMI, reducing salt consumption, and exercising regularly. Limiting alcohol and not smoking can also reduce blood pressure.

Natural methods to lower cholesterol include taking niacin, fish oil, and plant sterols. Dietary changes like following a heart-healthy eating plan or the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet may also help reduce cholesterol.

However, young people with elevated cholesterol and blood pressure should talk with their healthcare provider to develop an appropriate treatment plan for these and any other risk factors for heart disease.

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