High blood pressure may be widespread in young adults

About one in five young adults may have high blood pressure, a new study suggests, but many of them appear unaware of it. Such are the results of the latest attempt to clarify just how many far-from-elderly Americans are putting their long-term health at risk via hypertension.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzed blood pressure data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, called Add Health, and compared it with data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, commonly referred to as NHANES. They focused specifically on the information about adults age 24 to 32.

They found significantly different rates of hypertension between the two studies, but similar rates of diagnosed hypertension. Add Health data suggested that 19% of participants had high blood pressure but that only 11% had been told of their condition. NHANES data suggested that 4% had high blood pressure and that 9% had been told they had the condition.

Even the researchers seem at a loss to explain the discrepancy. “We really don’t know for sure,” said sociologist and lead author Kathleen Mullan Harris in a phone interview. “We looked at differences that we thought would probably would play a role, differences in the populations, differences in the methods we used to measure. None of those accounted for the gap.”


But, she added:

“We think the estimates are probably somewhere in between.” After all, about one in three U.S. adults -- counting the young and old -- have high blood pressure.

The study’s conclusion notes: “The prevalence of hypertension among Add Health Wave IV participants indicates an unexpectedly high risk of cardiovascular disease among U.S. young adults and deserves further scrutiny.”

Researchers obviously need to better identify the number of young adults who may be at risk -- especially, points out Harris, as young people transition from college to their first jobs (where they may become more sedentary) and start a family.

Here’s why it matters, according to the National Heart Lung Blood Institute’s information on high blood pressure:

“The condition itself usually has no symptoms. You can have it for years without knowing it. During this time, though, HBP can damage the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and other parts of your body.”

And the younger a person is when they develop high blood pressure, the earlier this damage can start.

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