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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 15:01 GMT
Call for yearly blood pressure checks
The study looked at how frequently blood pressure should be tested
The study looked at how frequently blood pressure should be tested
People with slightly raised blood pressure should have annual tests, scientists have suggested.

Such regular checks are needed, they say, because 'high-normal' blood pressure (BP) can develop into dangerously high blood pressure - known as hypertension - in just four years.

People with high blood pressure are at higher risk of having a stroke or heart attack, and can suffer other health problems.

Hypertension is linked to advancing age and weight increase.


Identifying individuals likely to move to higher-risk categories would decrease costs to and workload on healthcare systems

Professor Sven-Olof Isacsson, University of Lund, Sweden
A study published in the Lancet also suggests people with normal blood pressure rates should be checked every two years.

Existing recommendations vary from every one to every five years for people with slightly raised pressure.

Tests

Researchers from the Framingham Heart Study Group, in America carried out blood pressure tests on almost 10,000 men and women, with an average age of 52, between 1978 and 1994.

Blood pressure is the systolic pressure (peaking with each heartbeat) over the diastolic (between heart beats), and is measured in millimetres of mercury - mmHg.

The ideal rate was defined in the study as 120/80mmHg, and hypertension as 140/90mmHg.

The researchers found systolic pressure was the key determinant for hypertension.

Dr Ramachandran Vasan and colleagues from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute found in the under 65s, 37% with 'high-normal' BP developed hypertension over four years.

Eighteen per cent of those with normal BP also developed hypertension.

In the over 65s, 50% with 'high-normal' BP and 26% of those with normal BP developed hypertension over the same period.

Patients whose weight increased by 5% had a 20-30% increased risk of developing high blood pressure.

Screening

Writing in the Lancet, the researchers say: "Our findings indicate that a substantial proportion of patients with high-normal BP develop hypertension over a one-year period, suggesting that yearly screening might be desirable for this group.

"Conversely, a follow-up interval of up to five years, as recommended by the European Task Force on Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease would seem too long for this group given that their rate of progression to hypertension was 37 - 50% after only four years."

They also recommended checks every two years for those with normal blood pressure because of the "sizeable" proportion of people in that group who developed hypertension.

In a commentary in the journal, Professor Sven-Olof Isacsson of the University of Lund, Sweden, said: "The key features that influence a rise in blood pressure are still not completely known.

"[Future] research should focus on mechanisms involved in the increase of blood pressure and the transition to hypertension."

He added: "Identifying individuals likely to move to higher-risk categories would decrease costs to and workload on healthcare systems."

A spokesman for the British Heart Foundation said: "This study provides more clear evidence that normal-high blood pressure can develop into high blood pressure over time.

"It is therefore important that people of all ages discuss with their doctor whether they need a blood pressure check."

See also:

03 Sep 01 | Health
Heart health check warning
28 Sep 99 | Health
Public ignorant on blood pressure
21 Mar 00 | Medical notes
Heart disease
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