The study showed that 20-30% of people with high blood pressure didn’t know they had it. Photograph: Getty Images
Surely high blood pressure is something only old people need to think about? Not according to a new study – the ill-effects begin when people are in their 20s
Do you worry about high blood pressure? Of course not. That’s for old people. The whole point of being young is to drink and eat what you want and not worry. When you get to 30, then you’ll start being healthy. But it seems even 30 may be too late to prevent your arteries getting narrowed and damaged. A study in this month’s Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that young adults who continually had blood pressure at the high end of the normal range were more likely to show signs of heart problems in middle age. The researchers, from Johns Hopkins University in the US, followed 2,479 men and women whose ages ranged from 18 to 30, over 25 years. They measured their blood pressure, and used speckle tracking echocardiography (a specialised ultrasound technique) to look for heart damage.
High blood pressure is often a silent condition, discovered by a routine check. Grade-one high blood pressure is over 140/90, and 20-30% of people with it don’t know they’ve got it. What this study shows is that young people with blood pressure at the high end of the normal range increase their risk of heart damage 25 years later. The study showed that, in this group, the left ventricle had to work harder to generate the movement to push blood out of the heart round the body. This structural change in the heart chamber is one step along the way to the ventricle getting bigger and stiffer. High blood pressure has no upsides. It can causes heart attacks, heart and/or kidney failure, strokes and dementia. So should you take more care of yourself from an earlier age?
The study did not follow people through to see if they actually had the strokes and heart attacks that seemingly loomed over them: it didn’t have what doctors call clinical endpoints. But Dr Sadia Khan, a consultant cardiologist at West Middlesex hospital, says that it confirms what doctors have been saying for some time. “The choices that people make now will have a big influence on their future wellbeing,” she says. The traditional view that the effects of high blood pressure only occur when you’re older is now debunked.
This doesn’t mean that young people with higher but still normal blood pressures need tablets – they don’t. What it means is that all of us (including children) should do what Nice recommends – exercise, reduce salt intake, maintain an ideal weight for your height and eat healthily. Alcohol can raise blood pressure and should be drunk in moderation. Don’t wait until middle age, when some damage is already done, to start trying to reduce your risk.
- This article was amended on 13 July 2015 to correct the spelling of Johns Hopkins University.