High blood pressure in middle age increases risk of heart attack

Fixing blood pressure in your 60s? It might already be too late, as major study shows having high pressure in middle age hugely increases risk of having a heart attack in later life

  • High blood pressure is already damaging people’s hearts in their 40s and 50s 
  • Researchers warned most people assume blood pressure is to worry about later 
  • Imperial College London scientists analysed more than 400,000 Brits’ genes 

Blood pressure must be controlled by middle age, otherwise it can lead to irreversible damage, a major study has found.

Having high blood pressure before the age of 55 dramatically increases the risk of a heart attack in later life, researchers found.

They warned that most people assume it is something to worry about in your 60s or 70s. 

But the findings reveal that high blood pressure is already damaging your heart in your 40s and 50s.

Blood pressure must be controlled by middle age, otherwise it can lead to irreversible damage, a major study has found

The scientists, who analysed the genes of more than 400,000 British people, calculated that every ten-unit increase in blood pressure levels before the age of 55 raised the risk of a heart attack in later life by 43 per cent.

The damage, they found, was permanent. For example, if somebody had the issue in their 40s, but it was controlled in their 60s, the harm would already be done.

Study leader Dr Dipender Gill, from Imperial College London, said: ‘Everybody knows that high blood pressure is bad for your heart. But nobody worries about it when they are young.

‘They think, “I will think about this when I’m 60, when I’m 70”. But this evidence shows that the damage is cumulative, it is lifelong. So it is something that we should be thinking about when we are in our 30s, 40s and 50s – not putting off.’

Having high blood pressure before the age of 55 dramatically increases the risk of a heart attack in later life

The researchers did stress that it is never too late to lower your blood pressure – even if you take action late in life, it will have a positive effect. But they said it was better to do so before middle age.

The study, published in Journal Of The American Heart Association, analysed the genes of 410,000 people who had donated genetic samples to the UK Biobank.

The researchers assessed 34 different genes that are linked to high blood pressure – and then looked at which of these genes were also linked to a lifetime risk of heart disease.

If a gene is associated with both high blood pressure and heart disease, it proves that one actually causes the other. 

The findings reveal that high blood pressure is already damaging your heart in your 40s and 50s

Experts say this is a reliable method of assessing the risks that high blood pressure may cause – because it separates it from other factors such as obesity, diet and lack of exercise. 

Dr Gill said: ‘We found even a small change in blood pressure has a cumulative effect on heart disease risk.

‘The longer you exert high pressure on the blood vessels, the more damage is done. 

‘Blood pressure is important. It’s not something that you can put off until old age. 

‘It’s something you should be thinking about in mid-life.’

High blood pressure affects one in three adults, about 17million people in Britain.

Because it has no symptoms until it is too late, only half of people even know they are at risk.

And very few people regularly have their blood pressure readings taken.

Maureen Talbot, head of clinical support at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, said: ‘Controlling blood pressure is extremely important, as it will lower your risk of serious illnesses such as coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

‘If you have high blood pressure when you’re middle-aged, taking proactive steps to reduce it could save your life.

‘Simple measures, like reducing your salt intake and taking regular exercise can help control your blood pressure levels.’

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