Prehypertension in Young Adulthood Could Mean Heart Problems Later In Life

Health Professional

Let’s discuss the results of a 25 year cardiology study linking prehypertension in young adults and heart problems later in life with Dr. Britt Burton-Freeman.

Dr. Burton-Freeman shares below what young adults can do now to prevent heart problems later in life.

What are the results of this 25 year cardiology study linking prehypertension in young adults and heart problems later in life?

Prehypertension can lead to adaptive changes that result in structural alterations in the cardiovascular system, including heart muscle structure, coronary vasculature, and conduction system of the heart over time. Structural changes eventually lead to functional changes resulting in disease: coronary artery disease, angina, myocardial infarction, cardiac arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure.

What does this study mean for young adults?

There is a link between elevated blood pressure in your 20s and heart disease later in life. Health is important at any age. While the young body is more resilient to most insults, they can certainly take their toll over time. This study provides another example of how chronic insults (chronically elevated blood pressure) can have long-term consequences for some people.  Regular visits to the doctor are important to ensure healthy status or to catch and address issues early.

For most people, catching health issues early, particularly conditions like elevated blood pressure that are responsive to diet and lifestyle interventions, can be addressed without pharmacological intervention and have a meaningful health impact long term.

What role does genetics play in these heart disease indicators?

Know your family's history: what to look for. Genetics is extremely important. If you have a family history of a disease or condition, take action early. In most cases this means adopting heart healthy diet and lifestyle habits early in life and maintaining them throughout life. It also means regular visits to the doctor to monitor health status and make adjustments in lifestyle patterns or include additional therapies as needed.

What nutritional changes should young adults make now to prevent heart disease?  20s and 30s and beyond?

Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and added sugar. As part of a healthy diet, eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish (preferably oily fish-at least twice per week), nuts, legumes and seeds. Consume the number of calories from these foods to maintain a healthy weight for your height.

Limit alcohol consumption: Drinking too much alcohol can actually increase your risk for heart disease and stroke, raise blood pressure, contribute to obesity, and increase the levels of fats called triglycerides in the blood.

Dr. Burton-Freeman is Director, Center for Nutrition Research, Institute for Food Safety and Health, Illinois Institute of Technology; Associate Research Nutritionist, UC Davis. Her research involves obesity and vascular disease inflammatory and oxidative stress responses. Her research approach includes human and basic science methodology.

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* CARDIA study details
The CARDIA study, conducted by researchers at multiple locations including Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, University of Minnesota and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, followed nearly 2,500 healthy men and women from early adulthood (ages 18 to 30), for 25 years. The results, just published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, revealed that those whose blood pressure was in the prehypertension range – between 120/80 and 139/89 – while they were still under 30, were more likely to have signs of heart disease when they reached middle age. Specifically, they were at higher risk of developing problems with their heart’s left ventricle.