1 In 5 Young Adults May Have High Blood Pressure

A doctor's hand holding the bulb of a blood pressure gaugeNearly one in five young U.S. adults may have high blood pressure, researchers say in a study, suggesting the problem of hypertension is more widespread than previously thought.

Hypertension is easy to prevent and inexpensive to treat through diet, exercise and drugs, yet it is the second-leading cause of death in the United States. The Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences that often conducts studies for the government, last year declared high blood pressure a “neglected disease” that costs the U.S. health system $73 billion a year.

The latest findings by a team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are in sharp contrast to a federal government study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that suggested only four percent of young adults might have high blood pressure, a condition that raises the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

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.