Does Getting Hypertension Earlier in Life Carry More Health Risk?
Has your doctor told you that you have high blood pressure? Take it seriously! Hypertension is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can also damage blood vessels and many organs in the body, including the heart, kidneys, brain, and retinas in the back of the eyes. In 2018, around 500,000 deaths in the U.S.A. were directly or indirectly due to hypertension.
Here’s the surprising part; you can have high blood pressure and not know you have it. That’s because hypertension often causes no symptoms. The guidelines for diagnosing high blood pressure have gotten stricter after research showed that following more rigorous guidelines can lower the rate of death. These days, doctors diagnose hypertension if you consistently have a blood pressure of 130 mm Hg or greater for the systolic, or top number, and 80 mm Hg or greater, for the diastolic, or bottom number.
Why the change in guidelines? Research now suggests that the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in those who have hypertension goes up even before a person meets the threshold for hypertension of 130/80 or greater. In fact, the risk of cardiovascular disease starts to rise at a systolic blood pressure of as low as 115 mg Hg, a blood pressure level that’s considered normal. So, lower blood pressure is better up to a point.
How When You Get High Blood Pressure Affects the Risk of Complications
Untreated high blood pressure is harmful at any age, but does it matter when you get it? Hypertension becomes more common with age, but high blood pressure is also becoming more common in younger age groups due to growing rates of obesity.
Does developing high blood pressure earlier in life, as a young adult, increase the risk of health problems and death more than getting it later?
According to a large study carried out by Chinese researchers, developing hypertension earlier in life carries a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and death than receiving the diagnosis later in life. The study showed people who developed high blood pressure before the age of 45 had double the risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to those diagnosed after this age. The study also found that for each decade that passed before subjects developed high blood pressure, the lower their risk of cardiovascular disease was.
You might think you can’t control when you get high blood pressure. But even if you have a strong family history of hypertension, research shows that lifestyle changes can delay its onset. The obvious factors that slow the onset of hypertension and help with blood pressure control are aerobic exercise and eating a healthy, unprocessed diet. However, a 2015 study also found that staying a healthy body weight and getting adequate sleep helps slow the onset of hypertension in people with borderline high blood pressure readings. Therefore, it’s important to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle as early as possible, especially if you’re at high risk of hypertension due to family history.
The Bottom Line
Developing hypertension earlier, before age 45, increases the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease more than getting it later in life. However, the most important factor is to diagnose and treat it as soon as possible to reduce damage to blood vessels, the heart, and other organs. Also, this study suggests that it’s important to teach healthy lifestyle habits that reduce the risk of hypertension.
Regardless of when you develop hypertension, keep close tabs on your pressures and make the lifestyle changes necessary to keep it under control. If your physician prescribes blood pressure medications, take them too. Even if you need medications, lifestyle factors are important for preventing the complications of high blood pressure such as cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Consider checking your blood pressure at home and keep an accurate record. It’s hard to maintain good control when you only get a reading a few times per year when you see your doctor. Check it several times per day to see how it varies. When you have this information, your doctor can better adjust your medications to keep your pressure under control throughout the day.
MayoClinic.org. 2018 Jul 1;107:108-115. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2018.02.016. Epub 2018 Feb 19.
Int J Med Sci. 2015; 12(7): 605-612.Published online 2015 Jul 16. doi: 10.7150/ijms.12446.
CDC.gov. “Facts About Hypertension”
Medscape.com. “Excess Risks of Hypertension Greatest With Younger Age at Onset”