High Blood PressureI am very concerned about newly released medical information that shows a dangerous rise in the number of cases of hypertension among young adults.  An updated news release from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health reports the results of a survey from the fourth scheduled health check of a group of nearly 15,000 young adults, ages 24 to 32. The study participants have been receiving routine health checkups since the program was launched in 1995.

Results from this recent survey showed an astonishing 1 in 5 participants has hypertension (high blood pressure). The mental picture that most people, including me, might have of someone with hypertension would be a much different picture than that of a supposedly healthy young adult. Most people would identify someone over age of 40 with risk factors such as obesity, tobacco use, and high stress levels as a strong candidate for having hypertension. Yet, here are new data showing a 20% incidence of high blood pressure in people 15 years younger than 40.   

The diagnosis of hypertension is extremely serious and proper medical management is paramount to survival as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and endocrine disorders are linked to poorly controlled hypertension. This dangerous and often misunderstood condition contributes to 1 out of every 7 deaths in the U.S.

Thankfully, severe, life-threatening hypertension is rare in children. Most cases of severe hypertension in children and teens are caused by heart or kidney problems and are managed by specialists in Cook Children’s Cardiology or Nephrology clinics. I do see children with hypertension in my endocrine practice clinic and usually the condition is brought on by pre-existing type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome. The common thread is OBESITY. I am finding that I am commenting on elevated blood pressure readings, screening for possible complications of elevated blood pressure, counseling on weight loss with discussion of its effect on blood pressure, and counseling on salt intake moderation with more frequency now, than just a year ago. 

Of course, no study is ever released without skepticism and because the incidence of hypertension reported in this survey is roughly double the evidence found in other health surveys about young adults, some medical professionals are calling into question its accuracy. The push is on for additional validated information to corroborate or repudiate these findings. However, the very real possibility that these data are true indicates a potential future health crisis for our children created by what was once considered an adult only health problem.  The one consistent factor found in this dramatic analysis shows the group’s rate of obesity having more than doubled over the last 11 years.

While medical research continues and physicians debate, there are steps that can be taken to ensure good health for you and your family and lessen the risk of hypertension:

  1. Get routine medical check-ups including blood pressure checks. Normal blood pressure readings for adults as recommended by the American Heart Association are shown below:
Blood pressure classification Systolic Diastolic
Normal <120 <80
Prehypertension 120-129 or 80-89
Hypertension >140 or >90
Hypertension in Diabetics >130 >80
  1. Follow some of these hypertension prevention guidelines developed by the American Heart Association
    1. Maintain a healthy weight
    2. Get regular exercise
    3. Watch your salt intake
    4. Quit smoking

Here’s to your good health!
Dr. Joel Steelman

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