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Hypertension Among Young Adults More Widespread Than Ever

May 26, 2011

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have recently claimed that nearly 1 in 5 young adults in the US may suffer from high blood pressure, suggesting that it could be more widespread than previously believed, Reuters is reporting.

Although quite easy to prevent and inexpensive to treat, it is the second-leading cause of death in the United States. Last year, hypertension was declared a “neglected disease” that costs the US health system $73 billion a year.

The latest findings by the team in Chapel Hill are in sharp contrast to a federal government study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that suggested only 4 percent of young adults might have high blood pressure. Both studies used the same definition of hypertension: a blood pressure reading of 140 over 90 millimeters of mercury or more. Normal blood pressure is considered to be 120 over 80 or lower.

“The findings are significant because they indicate that many young adults are at risk of developing heart disease, but are unaware that they have hypertension,” said Quynh Nguyen, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose study appears online in the journal Epidemiology.

For the study, the team 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.

Their study found 19 percent suffered elevated blood pressure, and only about half of these individuals had ever been told by their doctor that they had the condition. The team considered several explanations for the discrepancies, including differences in the participants, where they were examined, and the accuracy and reliability of the blood pressure measurements.

Kathleen Mullan Harris, Ph.D., Add Health’s principal investigator explains, “Our respective findings may differ, but the message is clear. Young adults and the medical professionals they visit shouldn’t assume they’re not old enough to have high blood pressure. This is a condition that leads to chronic illness, premature death and costly medical treatment.”

“Our results show that the processes that trigger these problems begin early in life, but they are preventable, so it’s important to check for hypertension now and head it off at the pass, in order to avoid these health and societal costs later on.”

Males were also much more likely than females to have hypertension (27 percent vs. 11 percent); and young adults without a high school degree were more likely than their college-educated peers to have the condition (22 percent vs. 17 percent), according the Add Health study.

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