FRIDAY, April 24, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Children who suffer abuse or neglect are at increased risk for high blood pressure when they're adults, new research suggests.
The study included nearly 400 white and black students in the Richmond County public school system in Georgia whose blood pressure was measured an average of 13 times over 23 years, until they reached a median age of 30.
When the participants were 18, they were asked if they had experienced what the researchers called "adverse" childhood events, which include emotional, physical or sexual abuse, emotional or physical neglect, or substance abuse or domestic violence at home.
About 70 percent of the participants reported at least one such event and 18 percent reported more than three. While the study couldn't prove cause-and-effect, the more adverse events reported by participants, the higher their blood pressure was as young adults.
For example, a white male who reported four or more adverse events had a systolic blood pressure (top number) of 127, compared with 117 for a similar white male who reported no such events, according to the researchers.
A 10-point higher systolic reading -- which denotes the pressure while the heart is contracting -- in early adulthood increases the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart disease by middle and/or old age.
"That is a big difference. You can predict that five years later, these young people may be hypertensive," study corresponding author Shaoyong Su, a genetic epidemiologist at the Medical College of Georgia, said in a college news release.
"We hope these studies will reinforce the need to screen children and young adults for adverse childhood events, so this increased risk can be identified early to enhance resiliency and recovery, and lessen the burden of cardiovascular [heart] disease later in life," Su said.
"First we have to know and accept that these difficult problems occur to some extent in the majority of our children," he added.
The study was published recently in the journal Circulation.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains how to prevent high blood pressure.