January 23, 2018

Regular blood-pressure checks could improve health and reduce cardiovascular risks.


High blood pressure often doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms, and that’s why it needs to be checked regularly. Unfortunately, if you don’t visit a physician, it could go unnoticed. A new study published in the medical journal Hypertension shows that men ages 18 to 39 are lagging behind in blood pressure awareness and treatment.

“Young men don’t tend to see physicians routinely — in contrast to younger women who are more likely to have gynecological visits at least annually,” explained Joshua Beckman, M.D., of Vanderbilt’s Heart and Vascular Institute. “In addition, men in this age group have a low risk of hypertension and aren’t typically concerned about it.”

That low risk doesn’t mean men should ignore it, however. We asked Beckman to give us the low-down on high blood pressure.


Why is high blood pressure a concern?

High blood pressure increases your chance of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and death. “The problem is that people don’t feel their high blood pressure,” Beckman said. “It can operate in the background for years, increasing the risk of these problems, but simple lifestyle changes and habits can help to manage the high blood pressure.”


How often should men get their blood pressure checked?

Beckman said that you should schedule an annual physical even if you have no known health issues. That way a blood pressure reading and other baseline measurements will be recorded yearly. You can also grab additional blood pressure readings throughout the year at most pharmacies.


What is a normal blood pressure reading for a young man?

The American Heart Association released new guidelines stating that a normal blood pressure reading for people over 18 years of age is <120/80 mm Hg. The first number (systolic) is a reading of the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number (diastolic) represents the pressure when your heart is between beats. Learn more about the new guidelines here.


Is low blood pressure a concern?

Beckman said that low blood pressure in young men is rare and isn’t usually cause for alarm. However, if you feel lightheaded or have fainting spells, talk to your physician.


What are the main causes of high blood pressure in young men?

A small number of young men develop high blood pressure early in adulthood, Beckman said. This can be hereditary. Other more common causes of high blood pressure in young men include sleep apnea and coarctation of the aorta. “Coarctation is a narrowing in the upper portion of the aorta that decreases blood flow to the lower half of the body,” Beckman explains. “The body compensates by increasing blood pressure to provide blood flow to the lower half.”

A case of nerves on a visit to the clinic could also cause temporary high blood pressure. This is called “white coat hypertension.” Beckman said doctors can rule this out with a 24-hour ambulatory test that measures blood pressure every 20 minutes while awake and every 30 minutes while asleep.


What can young men can do to lower their blood pressure?

The first steps to blood pressure control without medication include lifestyle changes. Beckman recommends the following:

  • Reduce daily salt intake.
  • Avoid fried foods.
  • Reduce consumption of red meat.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Lose weight.
  • Get plenty of sleep.

The Vanderbilt Heart team treats patients with all kinds of cardiovascular disease, including very complex cases, offering a wide range of services in many locations. Learn more here.

Joshua Beckman, M.D., is professor of medicine and director of vascular medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. His research focuses on how and why people develop peripheral artery disease, and strategies for prediction and prevention.