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Published: 2023-09-26

High blood pressure in adolescence increases the risk of future cardiovascular disease

NEWS Data from 1.4 million Swedish conscripts show that elevated blood pressure at the age of 18 increases the risk of future heart attack, stroke, heart failure and death. High blood pressure is a global public health problem estimated to cause 10 million deaths annually. Finding and treating people with high blood pressure early can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

– It is well known that elevated blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure in the middle-aged and elderly, and the scientific evidence for treating elevated blood pressure in this group is strong. The situation for young people is completely different, says Helene Rietz, internist and doctoral student at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Umeå University, who investigated how blood pressure levels at the time of military conscription are associated with cardiovascular events.

Conscripts followed for 50 years

For children and adolescents, there are very few studies that examine blood pressure levels and the risk of future cardiovascular events. The studies that exist are small and contradictory. The current study, which is published in Annals of Internal Medicine on September 26, thus fills an important knowledge gap.

By connecting the Swedish military conscription register, where blood pressure is recorded, with diagnosis codes for cardiovascular disease from the inpatient care register and the cause of death register, the researchers have been able to follow young people who participated in military conscription for up to 50 years. The study shows a gradually increasing risk of future cardiovascular disease with rising blood pressure, and the risk is elevated already from blood pressure levels above 120/80 mm Hg.

Hope for prevention

– These results show that elevated blood pressure in adolescents is a risk factor for future cardiovascular disease, which has not been shown before, says Helene Rietz.

High blood pressure is the biggest underlying cause of cardiovascular disease and premature death in the world today. The new results show that 24% of adolescents with blood pressure values ​​≥140/90 mmHg at enrollment suffer a cardiovascular event before retirement age compared to 15% for those with optimal blood pressure (<120/80 mmHg).

– We hope that our results can motivate physicians to measure blood pressure in adolescents to a greater extent than is done today, and that targeted measures against high blood pressure in young people can prevent and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, says Helene Rietz.

The article in Annals of Internal Medicine: Rietz H, Pennlert J, Nordström P, et al. Blood pressure level in late adolescence and risk for cardiovascular events. A cohort study. Ann Intern Med. 26 September 2023. [Epub ahead of print]. doi:10.7326/M23-0112