MONDAY, Nov. 21, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Young adults with elevated blood pressure have an increased risk of death decades later, according to a new study.
High blood pressure is a known risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke but most of the evidence supporting this connection has come from studies of middle-aged and elderly people.
For this investigation of the long-term impact of elevated blood pressure in young adults, the researchers examined data from the Harvard Alumni Health Study. The participants were Harvard students who had a physical exam when they began university at about age 18 between 1916 and 1950.
The participants filled out a health questionnaire when they were middle-aged (mean age 46 years). The researchers then looked at death certificates issued for participants until the end of 1998.
After adjusting for age, body mass index, smoking status and physical activity, the researchers found that elevated blood pressure when the participants were young adults was associated with an increased risk of all-cause death, cardiovascular disease-related death and coronary heart disease-related death during the follow-up period.
Specifically, a 13.1 mmHg increase in systolic blood pressure (the top number) at the initial physical examination was associated with a 5 percent increase in all-cause death, an 8 percent increase in cardiovascular disease-related death, and a 14 percent increase in heart disease-related death.
These increased risks persisted, but were slightly less, after the researchers adjusted for high blood pressure in middle age.
There was no link found between elevated blood pressure in young adulthood and increased risk of stroke later in life.
The researchers said their findings show the importance of paying attention to blood pressure elevations in young adults.
The study appears in the Nov. 29 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The clinical implications of the finding that blood pressure matters even during young adulthood are "potentially profound," Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an associate professor of medicine and of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote in an accompanying editorial.
She noted that young adults are less likely than middle-aged and older adults to be aware that they have high blood pressure, less likely to be on treatment for it and less likely to have it under control.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about high blood pressure.