Blood Pressure in Middle Age Key to Heart Risk
Dec. 21, 2011 - The more years you can keep your blood pressure in the normal range, the lower your risk for heart disease and stroke as you age, a new study says.
Specifically, researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago looked at blood pressure in middle age and how it affected heart disease and stroke risk in later life.
The researchers examined data on nearly 62,000 people who were 55 at the start of the study and followed them for an average of 14 years.
People who had normal blood pressure in middle age had a 22 to 41 percent chance of developing heart disease or stroke in later life. Those who had high blood pressure in middle age saw their risk for heart disease and stroke rise to 42 to 69 percent.
The study results, published in this week's issue of the journal Circulation, underscore the need to keep blood pressure under control, says Robert Graham, M.D., at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"Unfortunately, many patients do not take this 'silent disease' seriously because they usually don't see or feel the effects of their hypertension until some catastrophic outcome has occurred," Dr. Graham says.
The study also found that women's blood pressure rose more steeply than men's in middle age, probably because of menopause. Women who had high blood pressure by around age 40 had a higher lifetime risk for heart disease (49 percent) than those who have maintained normal blood pressure up to age 55.
Nearly 70 percent of men who developed high blood pressure in middle age had a stroke or heart attack by age 85, the researchers found.
"With medications and lifestyle changes, patients who control their blood pressure during middle age had the lowest lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease, while those with an increase in blood pressure had the highest risk," Dr. Graham says.
Ways to Control High Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure, you can manage your condition with your health care provider's help. In most cases, the condition responds to treatment - and lifestyle changes.
Take your blood pressure medication as prescribed, and consider making some of these changes:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight often causes your blood pressure to drop. Some people may lower their blood pressure enough to stop taking medication for the condition.
- Get regular exercise. Regular aerobic exercise tones your heart, blood vessels, and muscles and keeps your blood pressure low. Talk with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.
- Learn how to deal with stress. Meditate, listen to stress-management tapes, or do relaxation exercises daily. People who feel stressed often have high blood pressure.
- Don't smoke. If you smoke, quit. Smoking increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.
- Drink only in moderation. Heavy, regular consumption of alcohol can increase blood pressure dramatically. Experts recommend no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.