Young adults are at risk for hypertension. What you need to know

Hypertension is no longer limited to middle-aged adults. Now more young adults have the condition, underscoring the importance of hypertension awareness and lifestyle interventions early in life.

Under the 2017 guideline—written by a joint task force formed by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA)—lifetime risk of hypertension exceeded 80% for black men and women, as well as for white men, according to a new study published in JAMA Cardiology.

The AMA has developed online tools and resources created using the latest evidence-based information to support physicians to help manage their patients’ high BP. These resources are available to all physicians and health systems as part of Target: BP™, a national initiative co-led by the AMA and AHA.

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Essential steps to help patients of color control BP

The JAMA Cardiology study used three contemporary Cardiovascular Lifetime Risk Pooling Project cohorts and included individual-level data from 6,313 participants at baseline with a median age of 25 years. It found that, for those between 20 and 30 years old, 30.7% of white men, 23.1% of black men, 10.2% of white women and 12.3% of African American women already had hypertension.

Using the ACC/AHA guideline, researchers also found that white men had a lifetime risk of hypertension of 83.8%, black men 86.1%, white women 69.3%, and black women 85.7%. These numbers were greater than corresponding lifetime risks under the JNC7 threshold for hypertension.

“We were interested in understanding how and when the risk for developing hypertension develops across early adult life,” said John T. Wilkins, MD, a cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine. He also is assistant professor of medicine-cardiology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Understanding the sex, race and age groups that are at risk for hypertension may help public health officials and physicians identify groups and patients who may benefit most from hypertension prevention efforts and screening for elevated blood pressure,” Dr. Wilkins added.

Make lifestyle change early

Efforts to cut the risks for developing hypertension should include achieving or maintaining an optimal body weight and consuming low-sodium diets rich in fruits and vegetables. Lifestyle changes should also include regular physical activity among pediatric, adolescent and young-adult populations.

“Young adults who think they are otherwise healthy should definitely know their blood pressure and understand that elevated blood pressure at age 20 to 25 should be addressed with lifestyle modification and even medications in some individuals,” Dr. Wilkins said.

Dr. Wilkins was surprised by the prevalence of elevated BP in young adults and how quickly they developed risks early in life, particularly black women. This demonstrates how important it is to address cardiovascular health in children and young adults.

“Unfortunately, the ongoing obesity epidemic and poor overall diet quality in most children in the U.S. suggests that we may see even more young adults with hypertension who may go on to develop hypertension-related illness later in life unless significant shifts in average body weight and dietary patterns are realized,” he said.