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More Americans are feeling the adverse effects of suffering from high blood pressure than ever before and a significant proportion of this populace happens to be in the 20-35 age-bracket. Figuratively speaking, over 65 million Americans are putting up with the side effects of acute hypertension out of which 13 million happen to be aged between 24 yrs and 32 years-that is about 20% of the total affected population. A recent study conducted by NIH’s Department of Clinical Research under the stewardship of its Associate Director, Steven Hirschfeld on behalf of NICHD (Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development) examined the blood pressure of over 14,000 males and females in the 24-32 age group (1)
The diagnoses and the findings noted by the researchers and health experts were indeed alarming. The results, when compared and contrasted with the findings of a major trial that was carried out on an earlier occasion, exposed a greater proportion of high blood pressure readings-19% vis-à-vis the 4% in the preceding study where the sample population comprised of men and women aged between 20 and 39 years of age. Scientists and research scholars monitoring the study were unable to figure out the causes behind the steep increase in percentage. However, they concluded convincingly that numerous youngsters were not aware of their high blood pressure.
Key Findings of the Study
Reasons behind the trend of more younger adults diagnosed with HBP
If you’re aged between 20 and 35 and have a blood pressure of 140/90mm Hg, then you’re a candidate for high blood pressure. Most young men and women when diagnosed with high blood pressure have reported feeling perfectly alright and are highly unlikely to get their BP checked periodically. These young individuals have a deep-seated belief that HBP is a condition that is more prevalent in older people and that their being diagnosed with HBP is more of an aberration.
A significant proportion of such young adults are likely to be obese with unhealthy lifestyles. At the same time, they’d rather respond to and take up weight management programs as well as take preventive and/or corrective steps to bring about changes in their erratic lifestyle rather than revisit the doctor for getting their blood pressure examined. They’d particularly loathe following treatment that’d be surely recommended by the physician if their blood pressure readings are consistently high (2).
HBP as a grave lifestyle disorder is notorious for being a ‘silent killer’ (as symptoms become noticeable long after the ailment has caused irreparable damage to the affected organ(s)). So, young people who don’t go in for a treatment course to keep their blood pressure in control are at high risk of getting incapacitated with kidney failure a stroke or heart attack. Therefore, it is imperative for the younger generation of adults to keep their hypertension under control, especially the systolic blood pressure.
There are two distinct types or kinds of hypertension-primary HBP and secondary HBP. Almost 90% to 95% of the cases of high blood pressure in young adults can be categorized under primary hypertension. The remaining 5% of the diagnoses are grouped under secondary hypertension. The cause or causes leading to primary hypertension are generally idiopathic or unknown.
However, obesity, poor eating habits, sedentary lifestyle, excessive smoking or drinking, and undue stress are primarily regarded as the chief factors causing one to develop high blood pressure. To be specific, the causes usually happen to be an intricate and incomprehensible combination of environmental, genetic, and other aspects. On the other hand, secondary hypertension is attributable to an underlying condition such as kidney disease or diabetes or other cause(s) like medication (3).
Reigning in high blood pressure can be an uphill task if the young person is suffering from diabetes, kidney disease, and aortic coarctation or from any of the several endocrine disorders. Then again, OTC drugs and/or prescription medicines including NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), oral contraceptives, decongestants, and corticosteroids can hike up current HBP or cause a temporary spike in blood pressure. In the last ten years, there has been a steep increase of nearly 30% in the total number of Americans suffering from HBP.
In other words, over 73 million Americans aged 20 years and above are now coping with high blood pressure. Obesity which is a major culprit that makes your blood pressure shoot up and cause it to remain consistently high affect has epidemic proportions in USA. Of every three Americans, two are regarded as obese or overweight and that is nearly 67% of the whole population (4).
A sedentary or inactive lifestyle is another major factor that is contributing towards increasing number of young people being identified with high blood pressure. A good percentage of the young generation are now engaged in jobs and occupations that keep them deskbound for the better part of the working day lessening their scope of physical exertion. The stress and anxiety of sitting on a chair and staring at a computer screen for hours on end can take a toll on one’s physical and mental wellbeing causing BP to rise abnormally.
Poor or unhealthy eating habits coupled with intake of meals at no fixed timings are also acting as a triggering factor towards increase in blood pressure. Young Americans as well as individuals residing in other countries are consuming more fast foods and/or processed foods that contain high amounts of salt, than ever before. Consumption of foods and food items with a concentration of salts can adversely affect your blood pressure causing the same to spike anomalously (5).
Smoking and drinking alcohol too cause blood pressure to go up unduly. Individuals who drink frequently, and it more often than not, surpasses 5 drinks per day, are more likely to register consistent high blood pressure readings. On the other hand, though smoking causes your blood pressure to rise by 5mm-10mm Hg temporarily, there is no conclusive medical evidence to directly associate smoking to a boosting of hypertension (6).
However, steady smoking causes blood vessels to constrict which in turn can increase normal blood pressure. Although the percentage of young populace in USA smoking or drinking has steadily plummeted, the incidence or prevalence of these two obnoxious habits is still quite high amongst the youth (7).
Adverse impacts young adults could face in the future because of HBP
Young men and women consistently diagnosed with high blood pressure will be at a heightened risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke, which are the two main causes behind premature deaths in the US. Globally, deaths occurring from cardiovascular diseases are estimated to register a sharp increase in the coming decades. Since there are no palpable or noticeable symptoms that can be directly accorded to a change in the blood pressure, the condition might cause untold damage to the bodily systems of the youth.
And by the time the symptoms become conspicuous, it might be too late as some organs may be permanently damaged. If adequate steps are not taken to rein in the high blood pressure including following a treatment therapy as prescribed by an authorized physician, young adults will be at extremely vulnerable to suffering a fatalistic stroke or heart attack (8).
High blood pressure if not controlled and reduced by pursuing a systematic treatment plan and bringing about changes in unbecoming lifestyle habits can lead to the following health complications:-
The brain functions actively as long as it receives a continuous supply of fresh blood. Unfortunately, impairment in blood supply to the brain can cause a ‘stroke’ ‘dementia’, ‘moderate cognitive impairment’, and ‘TIA (transient ischemic attack).
The heart is the most important organ in the human body that receives impure blood from all other organs, filters the same, and re-circulates the filtered blood throughout the body. High blood pressure can cause the heart to malfunction and eventually lead to the organ becoming dysfunctional. In the worst possible case scenario, such a situation might lead to the individual’s death. High blood pressure can result in an enlarged left ventricle (left ventricular hypertrophy), coronary artery disease, and heart failure (9).
High blood pressure means blood flows through the arteries at a force that is greater than normal creating more strain on the arterial walls. This can lead to the cells of the arterial walls to become damaged which ultimately results in atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) and arteriostenosis (narrowing of the arteries. These complications can limit the smooth flow of blood to different organs of the body that in turn could lead to serious medical issues including heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, aneurysm, blindness, peripheral artery disease, and so on.
Kidneys are the principal filtration organs in our body that rid the body of toxic wastes and excess fluids. Kidneys are able to carry out this vital function if and only if renal arteries (arteries supplying blood to the kidneys) and glomeruli (blood vessels within the kidneys) function properly. High blood pressure can interfere with the normal functioning of the blood vessels leading to the kidneys as well as the vessels inside them to malfunction.
This snag could cause kidney damage because of accumulation of toxic wastes and excess fluids in the organs. Dialysis will be required to clear the waste or the patient will have to undergo kidney transplantation. Other kidney issues one could be beset with owing to high blood pressure are kidney scarring and aneurysm of the renal artery (10).
Delicate and small blood vessels that carry blood to your eyes, in the event of getting adversely affected due to HBP could cause retinopathy that is characterized by blurry vision and internal bleeding. These complications can lead to partial or total blindness. Other issues that could happen because of high blood pressure are choroidopathy and optical neuropathy which could gradually lead to vision loss.
Sexual dysfunction and other health issues
One serious consequence or implication of high blood pressure is hardening of the arterial walls (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis restricts blood flow to the penis thereby preventing the organ from becoming erect and staying tumescent. Erectile dysfunction is more prevalent in men who’ve high blood pressure. Hypertensive women too may have issues with experiencing an arousal as blood flow to the vagina is compromised. Decreased blood flow can also cause vaginal dryness or irritation that could come in the way of the individual experiencing an orgasm (11)
HBP prevents smooth blood circulation rendering kidneys ineffective in proper filtration of toxic wastes. This can also cause removal of calcium from the body via the urine leading to decrease in bone density which eventually results in osteoporosis making bones break. Individuals with HBP also have the tendency to snore heavily during sleep which affects their sleeping cycles. Sleep deprivation, in turn, causes blood pressure to rise.
Deaths due to cardiovascular disease caused largely by high blood pressure account for 17.3 million deaths every year, a figure that is estimated to surge to over 23.6 million by 2030 (12).
Nearly 40% of the global population aged 25 and beyond suffer from high blood pressure. Statistically speaking, the number of people suffering from high blood pressure in 1980 was 600 million which increased to nearly a billion in 2008. Elevated or increased blood pressure is alleged to cause 45% of CAD deaths and 51% of deaths due to strokes worldwide.
Precautions & Tips to Stay Protected
High blood pressure is a chronic condition or disorder like diabetes that cannot be cured completely but can be kept within normal limits. First, you’d need to establish whether you’ve high blood pressure or not by taking consistent readings over a certain time period. If your blood pressure readings are always in the range of 140/90mm of Hg, then you’ve HBP, and you’ll need to keep it under normal levels. Following are some precautions that you should keep in mind and some tips that you should follow to control your HBP and/or lower the same.
Consume more fruits and vegetables and dairy products that are low in fats. Also, curtail intake of red meat, salty foods, and processed foods. The idea is to consume balanced meals that’ll supply the right proportion of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals to your body (13).
You can also go for a swim or workout in the gym on a regular basis. You should have a discussion with your physician for chalking out a physical activity program that is appropriate for you.
Young people in the present times are at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure than they ever have been. Stress is one determinant that has a significant impact on an individual’s blood pressure. And tension or anxiety has definitely gone up in everybody’s lives making one increasingly susceptible to having high blood pressure.
Once someone is diagnosed with high blood pressure, he or she is always at a risk of getting bogged down with innumerable health issues. Therefore, it is imperative to follow a healthy lifestyle so as to keep one’s blood pressure within normal range. Young adults more than any other age group of people should eat healthy, abstain from smoking and drinking excessively, get regular exercises, and take medications as prescribed by doctors.