Blood pressure in early adulthood, hypertension in middle age, and future cardiovascular disease mortality: HAHS (Harvard Alumni Health Study)

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011 Nov 29;58(23):2396-403. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2011.07.045.


Objectives: We sought to examine the association of early adulthood blood pressure with cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality, while accounting for middle-age hypertension.

Background: Elevated blood pressure in middle age is an established CVD risk factor, but evidence for association with measurements earlier in life is sparse.

Methods: The HAHS (Harvard Alumni Health Study) is a cohort study of 18,881 male university students who had their blood pressure measured at university entry (1914 to 1952; mean age 18.3 years) and who responded to a questionnaire mailed in either 1962 or 1966 (mean age 45.8 years) in which physician-diagnosed hypertension status was reported. Study members were subsequently followed for mortality until the end of 1998.

Results: Following adjustment for age, body mass index, smoking, and physical activity at college entry, compared with men who were normotensive according to the Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure criteria (<120/<80 mm Hg), there was an elevated risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality (1,917 deaths) in those who were pre-hypertensive (120 to 139/80 to 89 mm Hg) (hazard ratio [HR]: 1.21; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.07 to 1.36), stage 1 (140 to 159/90 to 99 mm Hg) (HR: 1.46; 95% CI: 1.25 to 1.70), and stage 2 hypertensive (≥160/≥100 mm Hg) (HR: 1.89; 95% CI: 1.46 to 2.45), incremental across categories (p(trend) < 0.001). After additionally accounting for middle-age hypertension, estimates were somewhat attenuated, but the pattern remained. Similar associations were apparent for total and CVD mortality, but not stroke mortality.

Conclusions: Higher blood pressure in early adulthood was associated with elevated risk of all-cause mortality, CVD, and CHD, but not stroke, several decades later. Effects largely persisted after taking into account mediation by middle-age hypertension. Thus, the long-term benefits of blood pressure lowering in early adulthood are promising, but supporting trial data are required.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Age Factors
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Massachusetts / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Survival Rate / trends
  • Time Factors