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High BP in Young Adults, Heart Trouble Later?

25-year study tied even slight rise in early adulthood to future risk of clogged arteries
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The new findings are based on 4,681 people from four U.S. cities who were between the ages of 18 and 30 when they entered the study in the mid-1980s. Over the next couple of decades, they had their blood pressure taken periodically. At year 25, they underwent CT scans to look for calcium buildup in the arteries -- which is considered an early sign of heart disease.

Overall, Allen's team found that study participants had five general "trajectories" in blood pressure over time.

Five percent had slightly elevated blood pressure at their first measurement, which then kept increasing over the years. That group had the worst-looking arteries 25 years later: One-quarter had calcium "scores" above 100, which is linked to a higher-than-normal risk of suffering a heart attack in the next several years.

In contrast, among people who had normal blood pressure throughout the study, only 4 percent had calcium scores that high.

But it wasn't only the young people with ever-increasing blood pressure who showed artery trouble later on.

Another 19 percent had blood pressure that was slightly elevated in young adulthood, but stable thereafter -- hovering in the pre-hypertension range over the years. In that group, 17 percent ended up with a calcium score above 100.

Of course, young people with elevated blood pressure might have other health issues, too. But even when Allen's team took into account for other factors -- like smoking, weight and current blood pressure -- a person's lifetime blood-pressure pattern was still important.

According to Bakris, it all suggests that elevated blood pressure, left unchecked, can start taking a toll on the arteries early in life. "If you wait until your 40s or 50s to address it, the damage to the arteries may already be done," he said.

He suggested that most healthy young people have their blood pressure checked every couple of years. But if they have a strong family history of high blood pressure -- such as two parents who developed the condition at a fairly young age -- more-frequent blood pressure checks would be in order, Bakris said.

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