Young blood (pressure, that is)

Hypertension is an increasing threat amongst young adults

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.

“I have experienced this in my practice, and unfortunately, the prevalence is on the rise,” says Dr. Jeremy M. Katzmann, a Polk County Medical Association Member and board-certified primary care physician, as well as Watson Clinic’s specialty spokesperson for the department of family medicine. “With the dramatic increase in obesity, we are now seeing more high blood pressure in young adults.”

Katzmann says there are multiple causes for the increase, including weight, inactivity, dietary choices, and familial patterns.

“We are seeing this as an issue in children, adolescents and elderly in increasing numbers,” he adds.

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

“Hypertension is the most common risk factor for heart attack and stroke, the leading cause of death for adults in the United States,” says Dr. Karem Remond, who specializes in internal medicine at Clark and Daughtrey. “Hypertension is more prevalent if either parent is hypertensive, but it’s also related to salt intake, alcohol use, weight gain, and physical inactivity.”

Remond adds that the prevalence of hypertension in young adults is nearly 19 percent, and more than half don’t know they have it.

“[This is] alarming, given that early detection and treatment prevents complications,” he says.  “This rate is an increase along with an increase in obesity rates in this group.”

Katzmann recommends some ways for young adults to counteract the high blood pressure trend, including lower sodium intake, limiting packaged and fast foods, avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol and increasing daily activity, such as walking, jogging and swimming.

Further research will be done to explore the reasons for the elevated blood pressure levels among young adults. Until then, stay active, eat healthy, and get regularly scheduled physical exams.



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