No matter what age, systolic blood pressure is the best way to predict future cardiovascular events and death. However, new research has found that diastolic blood pressure readings could still be a way to measure future health risks in younger people.
In a blood pressure reading, the upper number—systolic pressure—measures how hard the heart pumps blood into arteries. The bottom number, diastolic, indicates the pressure on the arteries when the heart rests between heartbeats.
It has become regular practice for medical experts to focus on systolic readings when determining the risk of heart problems in patients. But a new study published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension questions the importance of diastolic readings.
The study looked at 26 years of data from 107,599 adults aged 19 – 97 years. None of the patients started out with cardiovascular disease, but some eventually reached a “cardiovascular endpoint,” which the study defined as heart attack, stroke, or death from heart disease.
It was found that in people under 50, diastolic blood pressure readings “provided additional prognostic predictive information.” This was not to say you should disregard systolic readings, as they are still a strong predictor of cardiovascular risk independent of sex, age, and other cardiovascular risk factors.
“Our results underline the importance of measuring not only the systolic but also the diastolic blood pressure, especially in individuals younger than 50,” said Dr. Michael Hecht Olsen, lead author of the study.
Researchers also found that mean arterial pressure (MAP) was a good measure of cardiovascular risk and death no matter what age. This reading shows the average pressure in a person’s arteries during one cardiac cycle which is calculated using both diastolic and systolic blood pressure. This is just another reason why diastolic reading can be equally as important in some patients.
“Hypertension remains an extremely common cause of cardiovascular complications such as stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure. Further research remains critically important in how best to identify, classify and treat high blood pressure,” Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, who was not involved in the study.
The Silent Killer
High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because it damages blood vessels and can lead to serious health problems, including death. With nearly half of all American’s having high blood pressure, studies such as this are important to find relationships to other health problems.
While there are medications available to treat the condition, experts agree that people of all ages can help to avoid high blood pressure by eating a well-balanced diet that is low sodium, limiting alcohol, managing stress, engaging in regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.