Has blood pressure awareness become the who cried wolf? After all, you can’t usually feel when it’s high. It often doesn’t cause any symptoms and is so common that almost half of all US adults have high blood pressure. Is it just a normal part of aging?
I’d urge you to think otherwise. While the end result of risk factors for heart disease such as having a heart attack, a stroke, or developing heart failure may not result until people are in their 50s-60s on average, we should get into the frame of mind that heart disease is something that builds up slowly over many decades.
In 1999, research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed fatty streaks – fat deposits in the walls of arteries that lead to blockages, inflammation, heart attacks, and strokes – were present in 60% of people in the 15-19 age group and 70-80% in the 30-34 age group. Other research published in The New England Journal of Medicine have confirmed these findings and also added that it appears these fat deposits appear first in the arteries around the heart before other places in the body. Although we don’t routinely test for blockages – or coronary artery disease – in children and young adults because heart attacks don’t occur until 20-40 years later on average, this should be a reminder of the importance of healthy lifestyle modifications that can actually prevent someone from having a heart attack in the first place. These changes such as a heart healthy diet, more exercise, and controlling other known risk factors as best as possible such as weight, smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, and more should start early in life and continued into old age.
No one needs to be a hero. The more you can do, the better off you’ll be. It all starts with knowing your risk and then speaking with your doctor about how you can best modify the risk factors you have. A good example of this is blood pressure. Researchers looked at the association of heart disease later in life with high blood pressure diagnosed before the age of 40. High blood pressure was categorized as elevated if more than 120/80, stage 1 if more than 130/80, and stage 2 if more than 140/90, per guidelines. They found that compared to those with normal blood pressure, the higher the blood pressure was, the higher the risk of having a cardiovascular event such as heart attack or stroke. The risk went up to being over 3 times as likely in the group with the highest blood pressure.
People spend a lot of effort trying to do better and avoid heart disease. So how do we improve this trend? The solution probably lies in starting earlier. After all, healthier kids make healthier adults.
If you have questions about your heart health or want more information about how you can improve your risk profile, ask us here.