High blood pressure in young adults may lead to heart failure: Study conducted by American researchers links elevated blood pressure in young adults with increased risk of developing heart damage and ultimately heart failure.

According to a study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins, high blood pressure during young adulthood can ultimately result in what doctors’ term as sub-clinical heart damage by the time an individual reaches middle age. After which heart failure is the next and final stage.

Hypertension or high blood pressure is one that registers as 140/90 on blood pressure measurement unit. The upper number (systolic BP) reflects the pressure of the heart as it contracts while the lower number (diastolic) measures the pressure when the heart relaxes between contractions.

Cardiovascular diseases are often linked to high blood pressure as a risk factor. According to the study, blood pressure that is even mildly elevated can begin to cause heart damage in young people around 20 years of age. Not only that, but in just 25 years, it can also cause changes in heart muscle.

Blood pressure usually changes with age and although the universal normal is considered to 120/80, in a 60-year-old senior citizen, a blood pressure reading of 150/90 may be normal but in a 28 year old, it would be too high.

The findings were reported based on the enrollment of 2500 men and women in CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults). The enrolled people were observed over a period of 25 years.

Factors known to affect heart health such as blood pressure exposure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass were measured for each individual and the researchers divided the people by how high or low their BP readings were. About 3% had hypertensive BP at the start of the study.

At the end of 25 years, standard ultrasound imaging of the heart was done to see how well the hearts were working. Another more sophisticated ultrasound was done to see how the heart behaved during contracting and relaxing.

On the normal echocardiogram, the heart’s pumping ability was not found to be affected. But when the researchers looked at the how well the heart was handling pressure during its relaxation and contraction periods, there were visible differences.

Those with higher diastolic blood pressure when compare with people who had lowest diastolic BP were 70% more likely to have abnormal relaxation of the heart muscles, while those with higher systolic BP were 46% more likely to have abnormal contractions of the heart muscles.

Dr. Joao Lima, the principle investigator and a professor at the JH University School of Medicine said, “Our results suggest the heart muscle may be more exquisitely sensitive to the effects of even subtle elevations in blood pressure than we thought.”

Heart failure instigated by high blood pressure is common, but it can be prevented by lifestyle changes such as diet and even medicines. It is important to get blood pressure checked regularly and to ensure getting treatment if hypertension is diagnosed. The paper was published online before print in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on June 22, 2015.