High blood pressure is a large and growing problem in the US. A new study that followed 1.5 million teens through to adulthood investigates the role of early psychological parameters on the likelihood of developing hypertension.

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A new study links a teen’s ability to cope with stress and hypertension later in life.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is both common and dangerous.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure, equating to around 70 million people.

Consistently high blood pressure raises the risk of heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in America.

Worryingly, hypertension accounts for around 1 in 7 deaths in the US. By the year 2025, some estimate that, globally, 1.5 billion people might be affected by high blood pressure and the illnesses it brings.

Predominantly, this rise is due to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, obesity and an unhealthy diet. However, a progressive wealth of evidence demonstrates the role of psychosocial factors in hypertension. These factors include childhood trauma, a person’s propensity for impatience and hostility, financial stresses, depression and anxiety.

A recent study published in the journal Heart takes an innovative approach to studying these psychological aspects and their future impact on blood pressure.

Author Dr. Casey Crump and his team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York have conducted the first examination of resilience to stress in early adulthood and its ramifications on blood pressure later in life.

To investigate these parameters, the team poured over the Swedish national disease registry, tracking the health outcomes of over 1.5 million men conscripted into the army between 1969-1997.

As part of the medical inspection, the new recruits were examined psychologically. The men’s ability to handle stress was assessed by a 20-30-minute interview. Each recruit was scored from 1-9, with 9 indicating a particularly high resilience.

This medical screening was compulsory for all 18-year-olds in the country, covering around 97% of the entire male population. The researchers followed the men through to an average age of 47, collating incidence of hypertension later in life.

In total, 6% of the men were subsequently diagnosed with hypertension. Dr. Crump split the Swedish men into five equal quintiles, according to their early scores on the stress handling scale. The results were clear cut:

Low stress resilience was associated with subsequent increased risk of hypertension.

Men in the lowest quintile of stress resilience had more than a 40% increased risk of developing hypertension relative to those in the highest quintile.”

The team also found a clear and significant linear trend in the risk of hypertension across the full range of stress resilience. In other words, the way someone deals with stress as a young adult very neatly predicts the chances of hypertension in later life.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when other risk factors for high blood pressure were investigated, a high BMI and type 2 diabetes played a heavy role. Each gave a 2.5-fold increased risk of developing high blood pressure.

Conversely, two factors were found to significantly reduce the risk of hypertension in later life; these were a higher education level and a higher neighborhood socioeconomic status.

Although the present study cannot prove cause and effect at this stage, its usage of such a large data set gives us an intriguing insight. It is by no means the first study to find links between psychology and blood pressure, but definitively proving causation is troublesome.

In future, as more weight is added to the body of evidence, learning better coping mechanisms for stress from an early age might significantly impact the nation’s health in later years.

Dr. Crump says:

These findings suggest that low stress resilience may play an important long-term role in etiological pathways for hypertension. If confirmed, this knowledge may help inform preventive interventions by better addressing psychosocial risk factors and stress management.”

As ever, though, maintaining a healthy weight is more likely to positively impact personal blood pressure risk. Medical News Today recently covered research showing that teen obesity is strongly linked with high blood pressure.