Wake-up call: High blood pressure and cholesterol in young adults associated with later heart disease

High blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels in young adults may lead to an increased risk of heart disease later in life, even if they manage to get these levels down later in life, according to a new study. The study underscores the importance of early intervention to prevent heart disease, researchers say.

Researchers have known for some time that reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help reduce the risk of heart disease. While previous studies have found that poor control of these risk factors in young adulthood can lead to heart disease later in life, it is unclear if this contributes to later risk independently of exposures experienced later in life.

To find out, researchers pooled together six previous population studies and examined blood pressure and cholesterol levels in 36, 000 Americans, ages 18 to 84, who were followed for 17 years on average. The scientists found that elevated LDL (so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol) during young adulthood was associated with a 64% increase in the risk of coronary heart disease down the road compared to their peers with healthier LDL levels. Similarly, high systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure in young adulthood were associated with a 37% and 21% increased risk of heart failure down the road compared to their peers with healthier blood pressure levels.

The researchers recommend implementation of preventive programs targeting young adults that are web-based, patient-centered, and mobile. An editorial accompanying the journal article said this study should serve as a wake-up call for the medical community to recognize the preventive care gaps in young adults. Lifestyle changes—a healthy diet, regular exercise, weight loss, and smoking cessation— are key to managing cholesterol and blood pressure.

The study, which was funded by NHLBI, appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.  The study also included support from the National Institute on Aging.