Blood pressure changes are related to age

The findings of a recent study suggest that the main causes of high blood pressure can be modified over a lifetime and could be targeted to help prevent cardiovascular disease. Often high blood pressure has no obvious symptoms but this condition, which affects about a third of the adult UK population, can lead to heart attacks and stroke

A team of researchers led by Andrew Wills from the Medical Research Council Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, University College London, used data from several UK studies where the blood pressure measurements of individuals had been repeatedly taken over time. They found that blood pressure changed at four different points throughout life. Firstly there is a rapid increase during adolescent growth. There is then a gentler increase in early adulthood followed by a midlife acceleration (usually in the 40s). Finally, there is a period during late adulthood when blood pressure increases slowly and then reverses.

The blood pressure measurements from over 30,000 individuals aged between 7 and 80 years were analysed and the differences between the measurements in the studies, those in the general population and those in an occupational group were investigated.

Compared to the general population, the occupational group had lower average blood pressure, and midlife blood pressure acceleration appeared to begin later. Wider evidence suggests that this might in part reflect modifiable blood pressure-related factors such as diet and lifestyle that can vary with differences in social and economic circumstances. Furthermore, although at the beginning of adulthood women had lower blood pressure than men, an increased midlife acceleration (perhaps due to menopause-related effects on salt sensitivity) meant that later in life, men and women had similar average blood pressures. The findings also support the wide body of evidence that show a strong link between body mass index and blood pressure by age.

The authors say: "Whilst our study is unable to identify the key determinants of age-related increases in blood pressure, further research should try to understand which factors affect this trajectory and when in the life course such factors exhibit most influence."

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