One in Five Young Adults is Estimated to Have High Blood Pressure

by Dr Sam Girgis on May 27, 2011

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.  It is often referred to as the “silent killer” because high blood pressure usually doesn’t cause symptoms.  Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality in the United States, and treating known risk factors should be a priority.  Hypertension can be easily treated with diet, exercise, and numerous medications.  Unless hypertension is identified, patients usually go without treatment and continue to suffer its adverse health effects which can include damage to the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and other parts of the body.  Previous estimates of the incidence of hypertension in young adults, as found in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) study, have shown that it occurs at a rate of four percent.  A recent study published in the journal Epidemiology suggests that this is a gross underestimation.  The new study provides evidence that one in five, or 19%, of young adults has high blood pressure.  The recent study, entitled the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) was a nationally representative field study of 15,701 participants aged 24-32.  The Add Health results were compared to the NHANES results for discordance in hypertension.  Hypertension was defined as a blood pressure above 140/90 millimeters of mercury.  The rate of hypertension was higher in the Add Health study when compared with the NHANES results (19% vs. 4%).  The rate of self reported hypertension was the same in both studies (11% in the Add Health study versus 9% in the NHANES study).  The study authors made adjustments for variables such as participant weight, use of antihypertensive medications, and consumption of food, caffeine, and cigarettes.  None of these variables could account for the differences in hypertension incidence between the two studies.  The authors concluded that the prevalence of hypertension in the study participants aged 24-32 suggests that there exists an unexpectedly high risk for cardiovascular disease among young adults in the United States.  They also stated that the results warranted further scrutiny with additional research into the exact causes of hypertension in young adults.  More screening programs are needed because young adults are usually unaware that they have high blood pressure.


Nguyen, Quynh C et. al. “Discordance of National Estimates of Hypertension Among Young Adults” Epidemiology 2011 May 23. [Epub ahead of print]

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