Young hypertensives not being diagnosed won’t receive the treatment they need.

American Heart Association statistics show that while high blood pressure is more common in older Americans, about 29 percent of all U.S. adults have the condition, including 20-34 year old men (11%) and women (7%).

Nevertheless, doctors who discover high blood pressure in young adults are less likely to officially diagnose them than they would 60 year-olds. They are even less likely to be diagnosed if they smoke and if they have mild hypertension. A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison set out to discover why.

Lead researcher Heather Johnson, M.D., explained that when high blood pressure is diagnosed, i.e. documented, young adults can receive the treatment they need and bring it effectively under control. Johnson is an assistant professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

The research team examined the electronic health records of 13,593 men and women who were at least 18 years old. They had all visited their doctor at least twice within the previous three years in an outpatient, non-urgent care situation, and were found to have “multiple elevated blood pressures that met guideline criteria for a hypertension diagnosis.”

Nevertheless, after four years of visits and taking other factors into consideration, results showed that 67 percent of 18-24 year-olds remained undiagnosed compared to 54 percent of people 60 year and older. Of patients aged 25-31 years old, 65 percent were undiagnosed and out of 32-39 year-olds, 59 percent were still living with undiagnosed hypertension.

Family doctors were less likely to diagnose high blood pressure than Internal Medicine physicians, but female doctors were more likely to diagnose it in young adults. Those more likely to be diagnosed were minorities, those who had diabetes or severe high blood pressure, and those who made more frequent visits to primary care clinics and specialty providers.

Johnson emphasized that different factors play a role in the diagnosis and control of hypertension in young patients. “Patient factors play a role, provider factors play a role, along with the healthcare system. You can’t blame one component. They all must work together.” She also hopes the findings will “guide both patient and provider to make elevated blood pressure one of the key things to focus on during the visit.”

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