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Even Slightly High Blood Pressure A Warning Sign


Say you're under 65 and your blood pressure readings are usually a little above normal. Is that any reason to worry?

Yes, say researchers. It could indicate an increased risk of stroke.

Researchers analyzed data from a dozen studies involving more than 500,000 subjects to see whether stroke risk was affected by slightly elevated blood pressure, known as prehypertension. The review was published online in the journal Neurology.

Prehypertension is defined by the National Institutes of Health as a systolic pressure (the top number) of 120 to 139, and a diastolic pressure (the bottom number) of 80 to 89. Readings of 140/90 or above are considered hypertension, or high blood pressure.

The scientists found that particularly for people under 65, those with blood pressure readings in the high normal range -- 130 to 139 and 85 to 89 -- were nearly 80 percent more likely to have a  stroke than those with normal blood pressure. Those under 65 whose readings were in the lower part of the range (120-129 and 80-84) were just 22 percent more likely to have a stroke.

Interestingly, the study found no elevated risk of stroke for those over 65 with slightly higher blood pressure readings.

This does not mean that middle-aged people with prehypertension should start taking blood pressure-reducing medication, Bruce Ovbiagele, MD, lead author of the study and a professor of neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego, said in a news release.

Instead, he urged older adults to consider the elevated readings a sign that they should  make lifestyle changes, such as reducing salt intake and maintaining a normal weight.

"Modifying one's lifestyle is relatively safe and could potentially lower not just the risk of future strokes, but possibly other complications of prolonged elevation of blood pressure, including heart attacks, heart failure and kidney disease," he said.

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