High blood pressure at a young age
An age problem? Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that! 30-year-olds also have high blood pressure. Who should check and how to do it
Measure your own blood pressure regularly: More and more young people suffer from hypertension
© W & B / Michelle Günther
It was once considered a disease of old age, but doctors have long since found blood values of 140/90 mmHg and higher in more and more young people. The number of men affected between the ages of 18 and 29 doubled between 1998 and 2011 alone - to almost nine percent.
Of the 44-year-old men, 16 percent had high blood pressure nine years ago. This is the result of the DEGS1 study by the Robert Koch Institute, currently the most recent survey on the subject - the numbers may now be significantly higher.
Experts from the German Hypertension League estimate that five percent of children and adolescents already have high blood pressure.
What are the causes of high blood pressure in young people?
Apart from age-related stiffening of the blood vessels, the causes are the same as in older people: Family predispositions and lifestyle in particular are considered a risk. These include obesity and poor nutrition - for example with too much salt. The recommended amount is six grams per day.
Sedentary lifestyle and alcohol, smoking and stress also increase blood pressure. Both nicotine and stress hormones cause the blood vessels to contract. But medication, for example for ADHD, can sometimes play a role.
How is blood pressure measured?
With blood pressure is meant the arterial blood pressure. It oscillates between two values, measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). When the heart contracts and suddenly pumps blood into the vessels, the upper value (systole) arises. The lower value (diastole) comes about when the heart muscle relaxes and the organ fills with blood again.
When measuring, the cuff on the measuring device tightens on the upper arm and the pulse can no longer be felt. If the cuff pressure is released, the pulse can be felt again and vascular noises set in. This point in time describes the systolic blood pressure. The diastolic blood pressure is reached when the last vascular noise can be heard and the blood flows freely in the arm again.
How do you know if you have high blood pressure?
"You have to measure," says Professor Martin Middeke, head of the Hypertension Center in Munich. Because many people don't even know that their values are too high: The number of unreported cases among women is around 30 percent, "says Middeke.
As many as 40 to 75 percent of the men affected knew nothing about their illness. Because high blood pressure usually runs for a long time without symptoms. Only some patients experience a headache or dizziness in the morning.
Around 20 to 30 million German citizens have high blood pressure. That is almost every third person in Germany.
In order to prevent such symptoms - but especially the consequential damage caused by high blood pressure - you should check your values regularly. Especially overweight people and smokers should definitely do this.
Why are the values so dangerous?
High blood pressure is dangerous because it is a major cause of damage to both large and small arteries. Possible consequences are diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, kidney failure or visual disturbances due to retinal damage. The higher the blood pressure in young people and the longer it lasts, the more it damages the heart muscle function, among other things.
Recent studies also show that not only are strokes more likely, but also that the brain tissue itself is damaged. Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania (USA) found, for example, a reduced brain volume in study participants with high blood pressure from middle age. And researchers in Leipzig measured brain changes in young patients up to 40 years of age with slightly elevated blood pressure.
However, further investigation has to be carried out to determine whether this will result in later damage. But one thing is certain: the earlier high blood pressure is diagnosed and treated, the better.
What can young people do about high blood pressure?
"First of all, the change in lifestyle has a clear effect," says Middeke. "If there is still no vascular damage, such non-drug measures can work better than in older patients." So: reduce excess weight, do sports, reduce stress, quit smoking, eat healthily.
If this does not have a sufficient effect on blood pressure, other causes must be looked for, i.e. diseases that affect blood pressure (e.g. hyperthyroidism, adrenal gland tumors that produce stress hormones or narrowing of the renal arteries, which are involved in regulating blood pressure).
An overview study in the magazine Cardiovascular Research also indicates a possible connection between periodontitis and high blood pressure. The exact relationship must first be researched.
What if a healthier lifestyle doesn't lower the values enough?
Then - or if the blood pressure values are dangerously high - the doctor will prescribe medication. The treatment is no different from that of older patients, explains Middeke.
In order to adjust the medication as precisely as possible, it makes sense to take a long-term measurement for each high blood pressure patient. This shows how the values change over a 24-hour period.
Is there also a difference between old and young?
In isolated systolic hypertension, only the upper (systolic) value is increased, but not the lower (diastolic). "For a long time it was known as a typical form of hypertension in old age," says Middeke.
Its importance for juvenile hypertension has only recently come into focus. For tall, lean, healthy and sporty men, increasing the upper value is usually not a problem.