Kristen Pessalano just turned 23, but has been on blood pressure medication for more than two years. Pessalano, a New Yorker who works in public relations, found out she had high blood pressure while getting a physical before heading abroad for an internship.
"[I] got upset when I first found out because I automatically associated it with people who are overweight or old," said Pessalano. "I would have never associated high blood pressure with someone my age, especially when I appeared to be totally healthy."
Pessalano has a lot of company, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report finds that while the percentage of Americans who have high blood pressure has remained steady over the past decade at 30 percent, the number of younger adults -- ages 18 to 39 -- who have high blood pressure and take medication to treat it has significantly increased from 27.6 percent in 1999 to 2000 to 49.1 percent in 2007 to 2008.
Doctors say they're not surprised because of other health problems that plague younger adults.
"I'm not surprised that more and more young people are being treated for high blood pressure since the incidence of obesity, a contributing cause for high blood pressure, is increasing in this age group," said Dr. Randal Thomas, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
"With increasing obesity and diabetes in younger populations, clinicians may be more aggressive about recognizing risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like hypertension, and treating it," said Dr. Carol Horowitz, associate professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Although the news that she had high blood pressure was unexpected to Pessalano, the CDC report found most people with high blood pressure have become more aware of the condition, which is something physicians say they've noticed in their own practices.
"[I]ndividuals are taking their own health issues more seriously and noticing the increased blood pressure readings," said Dr. R. Scott Wright, also a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic.