New study finds 1 in 5 young adults may have high blood pressure

New study finds 1 in 5 young adults may have high blood pressure

I recently blogged about a survey by the American Stroke Association which showed that although most young adults wish to live long healthy lives, many do not believe that their health behaviors now can effect their risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease in the future.

The “young and invincible” mentality of Generation Y causes many young adults to not concern themselves with reducing their risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke, which are serious diseases that usually do not occur until later in life.

After all, as a young adult, if you look and feel healthy what could possibly go wrong?

Apparently more than you would think. A new study published in the journal Epidemiology this week indicates an unexpectedly high prevalence of hypertension in young adults in the United States, putting them at serious risk for health problems in the future.

This particular study compares discrepancies between two studies that estimate hypertension in young adults, ages 24-32, in the United States.

The first study, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), funded by the National Institutes of Health, began in 1995 when more than 15,000 U.S. middle and high school students were recruited to periodically follow up with blood pressure measurements over an extended period of time. In 2008, the study showed that 19% of adults in the 24-32 age group had hypertension (BP > 140/90 mmHg).

Add Health also indicated that a majority of the participants grew overweight or obese as they got older. In 1995, 11% of participants were obese which then doubled to 22% at a five year follow-up. By the conclusion of the study in 2008, 37% were obese and another 30% were overweight. This is a grand total of 67% of participants in the study being above normal weight. Considering being overweight is a risk factor for hypertension, the high rates of hypertension found in the study are not surprising.

However, data from another study, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), found that only 4% of participants between the ages of 24-32 had hypertension.

The new study in the journal Epidemiology sought to explain these large differences in hypertension prevalence. However, researchers could not find any issues with low validity or reliability in either study or differences in participant selection, measurement context, or interview content between the two studies. The study concluded that the discrepancy warrants further scrutiny.

However, the lead author did say in an interview with NPR that the real rate of hypertension in young adults probably lies somewhere in between the two percentage values. Nevertheless, the prevalence of hypertension in young adults is still high and needs addressing.

Despite the discrepancies found in these studies, perhaps most alarming is that although 19% of participants in Add Health were shown to have hypertension, many had never been told that they had a problem.

Because young adults often look and feel healthy, they rarely go to the doctor for routine checkups which include blood pressure screenings. Early stages of hypertension are usually asymptomatic and a person can go years with the disease without realizing their condition. These years of untreated hypertension can cause irreversible damage to the blood vessels and kidneys and put a person at risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke. Since hypertension is being found in younger ages than ever before, the time for Generation Y to think about their health in terms of long-term risks and benefits is now.

Reducing hypertension and risks for cardiovascular disease can often be done by lifestyle changes. Learn how to decrease your risk factors for cardiovascular disease here.

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