New research has found that the impact of high blood pressure on life expectancy may be far more significant than previously thought.
According to the research, which was based on data from a long-running U.S. heart-health study, high blood pressure can take years off both life expectancy and time lived free of disease.
The researchers found that high blood pressure at the age of 50 cut off about 5 years of men's and women's lives, and also caused them to endure 7 more years with cardiovascular disease compared with their peers who had normal blood pressure in middle-age.
According to the authors, that high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney failure, is well documented, but few studies have looked at how blood pressure affects life expectancy.
Dr. Oscar H. Franco, lead study author, says no one appears to have ever tried to quantify the effects of high blood pressure in terms of years spent with and without cardiovascular disease.
Franco, of Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands, says the current findings suggest that getting high blood pressure down to the normal range, or preventing it in the first place, could add disease-free years to people's lives.
They obtained their findings by using data from the Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 and has collected decades of data on cardiovascular risk factors among more than 5,000 men and women.
The new analysis is based on 3,128 of those adults, who were monitored, on average, for nearly 28 years.
Franco's team found that men and women who had normal blood pressure at age 50 gained 7-plus years free of cardiovascular disease, compared with those who had high blood pressure when they were 50 years old.
Total life expectancy was 5 years longer for adults with normal blood pressure.
Presently high blood pressure is defined as a blood pressure reading at or above 140/90 mm/Hg.
Normal blood pressure is considered to be anything below 120/80 mm/Hg.
According to the current study, the effect of those numbers on people's life expectancy may be greater than previously estimated, and emphasizes the global need to improve blood pressure control.
Experts advise that by maintaining a normal weight, exercising regularly, abstaining from smoking and eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and moderate in salt and alcohol, it is possible to keep blood pressure in check.
The research is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, August 2005, and appears in an online issue of Hypertension.