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Hypertension During Young Adulthood is a Predictor of Heart Disease

Update Date: Feb 04, 2014 04:02 PM EST

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can greatly affect one's cardiovascular health. Previous studies examining the effects of hypertension generally focused on middle-aged or older individuals. In a new study, researchers monitored the effects of hypertension over a 25-year span starting at young adulthood through to middle age. The researchers found that people who have high blood pressure during young adulthood are more likely to have an increased risk of heart disease.

For this study, the research team headed by Norrina B. Allen, Ph.D., M.P.H, of the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University in Chicago, IL, examined the relationship between common patterns of blood pressure and the presence of coronary artery calcification (CAC), which measures coronary artery atherosclerosis. The researchers had data on 4,681 people from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. The participants were between the ages of 18 and 30 at the start of the study, which was from 1985 to 1986. For 25 years, the study collected information on systolic BP, diastolic BP, and mid-BP.

The researchers were able to identify five distinct patterns of BP starting in young adulthood. They reported that 22 percent of the participants continued to have low BP. 42 percent continued to have moderate-BP levels whereas 12 percent had moderate-BP levels that were rising. 19 percent had high BP levels throughout the span of the study and five percent developed hypertension over the years.

The researchers concluded that people who had increasing BP levels over the years also had increasing CAC scores. This meant that people with hypertension from young adulthood to middle age have a higher risk of heart disease.

"Although BP has been a well-known risk factor for CVD for decades, these findings suggest that an individual's long-term patterns of change in BP starting in early adulthood may provide additional information about his or her risk of development of coronary calcium," the authors wrote. "Additional research is needed to examine the utility of specific BP trajectories in risk prediction for clinical CVD events and to explore the effect of lifestyle modification, treatment, and timing of intervention on lifetime trajectories in BP and outcomes."

The findings were published in JAMA.

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