Young Adults Go Undiagnosed When It Comes To High Blood Pressure
November 6, 2012

Young Adults Go Undiagnosed When It Comes To High Blood Pressure

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Doctors are less likely to diagnose an 18 to 24 year old with high blood pressure during visits than those 60 and older, according to a new study.

Findings presented at the American Heart Association´s Scientific Sessions 2012 showed that most young adults with high blood pressure remain undiagnosed after four years of regular doctor's care.

“These young patients come to the clinic and their blood pressure is recorded,” Heather Johnson, M.D., lead researcher of the study, said in a press release. “They have high blood pressure, but there´s no documentation of a diagnosis. We wanted to find out why.”

The team of researchers looked through electronic health records of 13,592 men and women who were at least 18 years old. All of the patients had visited their doctor at least twice within the previous three years in an outpatient, non-urgent care setting, and had multiple elevated blood pressures that met guideline criteria for a hypertension diagnosis.

After four years of visiting their doctors and accounting for other factors, the team found that 67 percent of patients 18 to 24 years old remained undiagnosed compared to 54 percent of people aged 60 and older.

The rate of whether they were diagnosed dropped the older the participants got. The team found that 65 percent of 25- to 31-year-olds were undiagnosed, while 59 percent of 32- to 39-year-olds were still living with undiagnosed high blood pressure.

Young adults were less likely to be diagnosed if they actively smoked, and if they had a mild stage of hypertension, according to Johnson.

A high blood pressure diagnosis was more common for minorities, young adults with diabetes, severe blood pressure, and who made more visits to primary care and specialty providers.

Family practice physicians were less likely to diagnose high blood pressure than Internal Medicine physicians, according to the study. The study authors also found that female doctors were more likely to diagnose high blood pressure in young adults.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke, and according to American Heart Association statistics, 29 percent of all U.S. adults have hypertension.

“We know that once high blood pressure is diagnosed and young adults receive the treatment they need, they can achieve pretty high control rates,” Johnson said in the release.

She warned that because researchers examined patient records from a large academic group practice in the Midwest, some of the predictors may vary among different healthcare systems and geographic regions.

“Patient factors play a role, provider factors play a role, along with the healthcare system,” she said. “You can´t blame one component. They all must work together to diagnose and manage high blood pressure in young patients.”

She said she hopes the findings will be able to guide patients and health care providers to make elevated blood pressure one of the key things to focus on during the visit.