FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J., Oct. 30 Heart disease,high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries - conditions that areusually associated with the senior population - are creeping into youngadulthood. According to new research conducted by Medco Health Solutions,Inc. (NYSE: MHS), prescription drug use by younger adults for heart disease-related conditions is increasing at a rapid rate, far outpacing older adultsand offering a glimpse into the forthcoming clinical and financial challengesfacing the nation's health care system.
The analysis shows that between 2001 and 2006, the number of 20-44 yearolds taking prescription medications to treat high cholesterol increased 68percent, and use of antihypertensives jumped 21 percent.
Based on this new analysis, the estimated number of 20-44 year oldsnationwide on lipid-lowering drugs surged from 2.5 million in 2001 to 4.2million in 2006, while the number of people of that age takingantihypertensives spiked from 7 million to 8.5 million in the six-year period.
"This may be both a good news, bad news story," said Dr. Robert Epstein,Medco's chief medical officer. "The good news is that younger patients aretaking medications that control conditions that, if left untreated, could leadto heart attacks and strokes - indicating that physicians are screeningpatients more regularly and treating these precursors more aggressively thanin the past. The bad news is that these conditions are showing up in patientsat younger ages, which could be the result of the growing obesity epidemic andvarious lifestyle factors."
Not only were the increases among 20-44 year olds significant, but so toowere the rates of increase when compared to age groups more traditionallyassociated with these categories of medications. The increase in the numberof 20-44 year-olds on lipid-lowering medications was 37 percent higher than itwas for 45 to 64 year olds; the growth in prevalence of those onantihypertensives was 52 percent greater. When compared with patients 65years or older, the increase in usage of lipid-lowering medications was 31percent higher in the 20-44 group, and among those on antihypertensives it wasmore than double.
Decline Seen in Age of Patients on Drug Treatment
The analysis also found a significant shift downward in the age ofpatients using these drug treatments. In 2006, half of all patients on lipid-lowering drugs were 61 years old or younger; the median age of women fell moresharply than men, dropping from 67 to 62 in the six-year span, as compared to62 to 59 for men.
The median age of those using antihypertensives declined four years overthe six-year period, with half of all patients on these drugs being 60 yearsor younger in 2006; again women had the greatest decline, dropping from 65 to60 versus men whose median age fell from 63 to 60.
"There is a history of women being under-diagnosed and under-treated forheart conditions," said Epstein. "The fact that more women at a younger ageare receiving medication treatment for high cholesterol and hypertension is asign that the medical community is recognizing that heart disease is a seriousthreat to women as well as men."
Heart Disease Risks
High cholesterol and high blood pressure are two of the leading riskfactors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. High LDL cholesterol cancause atherosclerosis, a narrowing and hardening of the arteries that feed theheart and brain. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can weaken the arterialwalls and make them more prone to atherosclerosis. Both conditions can leadto blood clots that can block blood flow and result in a heart attack orstroke.
For some people with high cholesterol and hypertension, lifestyle changessuch as weight loss, dietary changes and exercise can control the conditions.For others, medications may be needed. The most common medic