Hypertension in Youth Causes Heart Problems Later in Life

Men who have high blood pressure at the age of 18 are at an increased risk of major cardiovascular events in adulthood.

The risk gradually increased beginning with a blood pressure (BP) of 120/80 mm Hg, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers at the Umeå University and Uppsala University looked at data from 1,366,519 men enlisted in the Swedish military between 1969 and 1997. Their blood pressure was measured during the conscription.

To classify blood pressure elevation, the researchers used American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines, according to which blood pressure at 120 to 129/<80 mm Hg is considered elevated.

Nearly one-third (28.8%) of the participants had elevated BP, whereas 53.7% had hypertensive blood pressure at the age of 18. Over up to 50 years of follow-up, elevated blood pressure was associated with a substantial and gradual absolute risk increase for all major cardiovascular outcomes in adulthood.

For instance, one in 10 adolescents with combined stage 2 hypertension (blood pressure at or above 140/90 mmHg) would have a major cardiovascular event before retirement, whereas those with BP below 120/80mmHg would not.

Helene Rietz, M.D. from Umeå University and the study's co-author, says that the pathophysiological mechanisms of hypertension in young are not well established.

"Traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity and dietary salt intake are associated with hypertension in young, but other mechanisms are suggested as well, such as increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system," she told Healthnews.

According to the authors, identifying an increased cardiovascular risk in late adolescence could enable early intervention to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Interventions related to lifestyle as well as monitoring blood pressure over time can be relevant. If, how, and when pharmacological treatment is applicable needs further study.

- Rietz

About one in 25 American youth aged 12 to 19 have hypertension, and one in 10 have elevated blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.

As a parent, you can prevent hypertension in children by taking these steps:

  • Ask your doctor to measure your child's blood pressure starting at age three.
  • Replace foods high in added sugars and solid fats with fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious and lower-calorie foods.
  • Offer foods that are low in salt.
  • Provide water as a no-calorie alternative to sugary drinks, and limit juice.
  • Help your child to meet the physical activity guidelines.
  • Be a role model for your child by eating healthy and exercising.

The study's findings suggest that identifying and preventing hypertension in teenage boys can help reduce their risk of heart problems later in life.

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