According to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), 7% of men and 4% of women between ages 16–24 years have high blood pressure and most of them remain underdiagnosed. Hypertension is defined as a systolic blood pressure greater than 130mmHg, or a diastolic blood pressure greater than 80mmHg. Generally, there are no symptoms of high blood pressure and so the main route of diagnosis is through routine blood pressure testing.
Untreated hypertension in young people can cause artery stiffening, which can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as kidney and brain damage later in life. Currently, hypertension is responsible for approximately half of the heart attacks and strokes in the UK. As young people are likely to be underdiagnosed, it is important that the condition is diagnosed and managed efficiently in these age groups to avoid unnecessary morbidity and mortality.
There are several risk factors associated with hypertension, some of which are unavoidable, like ageing and ethnicity. However, there are a multitude of risk factors that can be avoided; some of these include high salt intake, being overweight, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking.
The ONS published a report on undiagnosed hypertension in late April 2023. The report analyzed the findings of the Health Survey for England (HSE), an annual survey of people living in private households in England, which included 21,476 adults. All participants had their blood pressure measured three times and an average result was taken from 2015–19.
The report found that of the 7% of men between 16–24 years diagnosed during the study, 66% were undiagnosed by a physician, and of the 4% of women diagnosed during the study, 26% were undiagnosed by a physician. These numbers suggest that young people in the UK, especially men, are unaware of their blood pressure, and are likely unaware that specific behaviours may need adapting.
GlobalData epidemiologists forecast the diagnosed prevalent cases of hypertension in adults over 18 years will increase from 10.3 million in 2023 to 10.5 million in 2027 in the UK. However, as a significant proportion of young adults, especially men, remain undiagnosed and unhealthy behaviours remain unchanged, it is likely that this number will increase past current forecast estimates.
Currently, GlobalData epidemiologists forecast that there will be approximately 2 million diagnosed prevalent cases of myocardial infarction (heart attack) in 2023, which will increase to approximately 2.1 million in 2025 in the UK. However, it is likely that if high blood pressure remains underdiagnosed and therefore unmanaged, the number of myocardial infarctions and associated conditions, like stroke, will increase over time. For this reason, it is vital that awareness is brought to maintaining healthy blood pressure among young adults and that routine blood pressure tests are encouraged, so that hypertension can be controlled and managed, before becoming fatal.