High blood pressure is no longer just a problem for adults

(Nevada Appeal) — Nearly one in five young adults have high blood pressure, a surprising jump that has prompted researchers to call it a “sleeping epidemic” according to a new study by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

UNC researchers analyzed data on more than 14,000 men and women between 24 and 32 years old in 2008 from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, known as Add Health, funded by the National Institutes of Health. They found 19 percent had elevated blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension. Only about half of the participants with elevated blood pressure had ever been told by a health-care provider that they had the condition.

“We have been referring to it as a sleeping epidemic of high blood pressure,” says Dr. Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina, who co-authored the UNC study and is also Add Health’s principal investigator. “We think that’s because most people, including the young, think that they are healthy. They don’t go to the doctor and have regular checkups; they are in a busy time of their lives – building careers and families.”

One problem, Harris says, is that “when you have high blood pressure, you are not aware of it physically. You don’t feel any different. That’s alarming.”

Hypertension is a strong risk factor for stroke and coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death of U.S. adults.

The UNC study was published online in the May 23 journal Epidemiology. By contrast, another reputable study – the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey – reported only a 4 percent rate of hypertension for a similar age group around the same time period (2007-2008). Both studies defined hypertension as blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) or more.

“We’ve been running around thinking four out of a hundred young people have hypertension and they are basically saying one out of five young adults have elevated blood pressure. That’s an enormous difference, “ says Dr. Richard Stein, professor of medicine and cardiology at NYU School of Medicine and national spokesperson for American Heart Association.


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