Almost 2/3 of medical students have higher-than-normal blood pressure

Nearly two-thirds of American medical students have higher-than-average blood pressure, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension 2019 Scientific Sessions, with male students in particular struggling to control their BP.

Study lead Jacek Bednarz, Jr., a third-year medical student at Lincoln Memorial University, and colleagues surveyed 106 male and 105 female medical students in Harrogate, Tenn., for their work. Participants, who were an average of 26 years old, provided information about their diet, exercise habits, alcohol and tobacco consumption, mental health, social support and past medical history, and consented to BP and waistline measurements for the study.

While about 37% of the group exhibited normal blood pressure, Bednarz, Jr. et al. reported that 16% had elevated or “pre-high” blood pressure, 29% had stage 1 hypertension (130-139/80-89 mmHg) and 18% had stage 2 hypertension (140/90 mmHg and up). A one-inch increase in waist circumference was linked to an 11% increased risk of developing stage 2 high blood pressure.

The researchers also said male med students were more likely than female students to develop high blood pressure—13 times more likely. Bednarz, Jr. said in a release that it’s unclear why young men would be disproportionately affected by high BP, but posited it could have something to do with the stress of a demanding education, anxiety, lack of exercise and healthy food intake and poor sleep.

“Elevated blood pressure should not be something that we only associate with being older,” he said. “Young people lack awareness about their own blood pressure. Getting your blood pressure regularly checked is a simple way to protect one’s health.”

While the statistic that 63% of medical students surveyed had above-normal blood pressure is concerning, it’s not necessarily new. A recent report from Blue Cross Blue Shield revealed rates of hypertension in the U.S. have been climbing for years, and they’re climbing fastest among millennials and younger adults.

“While this is a small study, it is interesting,” AHA Chief Science and Medical Officer Mariell Jessup, MD, said in the release. “As one of the most common and dangerous risk factors for heart disease and stroke, all people, even those who are young and believed to be in good health, should have their blood pressure checked routinely.”