In a new study, researchers found that variable blood pressure readings could be an overlooked early warning sign of heart disease.
They found that wide swings in blood pressure readings among young adults link to a higher risk of heart disease by middle age.
The finding suggests that the current practice of averaging blood pressure readings to determine whether medications are necessary could mask a potential early warning sign from the fluctuations themselves.
The research was conducted by a team at Duke University.
In the study, the team analyzed 30 years of data from a large, diverse cohort of 3394 young people enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study between March 1985 and June 1986.
The team focused on the systolic blood pressure level, the upper number in the equation that measures the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart pumps.
A systolic blood pressure reading over 130 is considered hypertensive and has long been a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
The researchers were able to identify which young people had variations in systolic blood pressure by the age of 35 and then track them over the next 20 years and see whether there appeared to be a correlating increase in cardiovascular disease.
Over those years, study participants reported 181 deaths and 162 heart events.
These included fatal and nonfatal coronary heart disease, hospitalization for heart failure, stroke, transient ischemic attack, or a stent procedure for blocked arteries.
The researchers found that each 3.6-mm spike in systolic blood pressure during young adulthood was associated with a 15% higher risk for heart disease events.
The results were independent of the averaged blood pressure levels during young adulthood and any single systolic blood pressure measurement in midlife.
The team says that current guidelines defining hypertension and assessing the need for antihypertensive therapies ignore variability in blood pressure readings.
This study provides strong evidence that doctors and patients should be alert to blood pressure variations in early adulthood when there is time to instill lifestyle changes that could improve and even extend a person’s life.
The lead author of the study is Yuichiro Yano, an assistant professor in the family medicine and community health department at Duke University.
The study is published in JAMA Cardiology.
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