A father's longevity may influence his adult children's blood pressure, say French researchers.

However, maternal longevity doesn't show the same pattern, say experts from INSERM, France's national health and medical research agency.

"These results indicate that there are dynamic and continuous processes linking paternal longevity to BP in adults," say the researchers.

Their findings were presented in Washington at the American Heart Association's 45th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.

High Blood Pressure Common Worldwide

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It contributes to half of all heart disease, which kills an estimated 17 million people worldwide each year, says the web site of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Up to a third of adults in most countries have high blood pressure, the WHO estimates. Fifty percent to 60 percent would improve their health if they lowered their blood pressure by increasing physical activity and eating more fruits and vegetables, says the WHO.

In January's issue of The Lancet, researchers estimated that by 2025, more than 1.5 billion people will have high blood pressure -- a 60 percent increase from 2000.

In the U.S., nearly one in three adults has high blood pressure but almost a third of them don't know it, says the American Heart Association. Heart disease is a leading cause of death in American men and women.

High Blood Pressure, Defined

High blood pressure is defined as having systolic blood pressure (the first number) of 140 or higher or diastolic blood pressure (the second number) of 90 or more.

"Prehypertensive" numbers are systolic blood pressure of 120-139 or diastolic blood pressure of 80-89. Even this top range of normal increases the risk of premature death from heart disease, according to the World Health Organization.

Normal blood pressure is systolic blood pressure of 120 or lower and diastolic blood pressure of 80 or lower. Those guidelines were published almost two years ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A quick, noninvasive test can check blood pressure. Because there are no symptoms, people may not feel ill. So getting tested is important. Lifestyle changes can help address high blood pressure, and medications are also prescribed when needed.

Blood Pressure Findings

The French study followed 1,047 adults for seven years. Participants were about 52 years old. Nearly half (48 percent) were women.

At the beginning of the study, subjects were asked if their father was still alive or how old he was when he died. Participants also had their blood pressure checked; 27 percent had high blood pressure at the study's start.

High blood pressure was most common in people whose fathers had died prematurely (before age 65).

High blood pressure was present in nearly 35 percent for those whose fathers had died before age 65, 28 percent for those whose fathers had died between ages 65-80, and 20 percent for those whose fathers were still alive at age 80.

Pattern Held in Follow-Up

Seven years later, participants whose fathers had died prematurely showed the biggest rise in systolic blood pressure.

Average systolic blood pressure increase was 5.3 for those people, compared with 3.8 and 1.6 for the other two groups, respectively.

Many of the 762 people who did not have high blood pressure at the study's start had developed it by the end of the study. That included 26 percent whose fathers had died prematurely, 17 percent of those whose fathers died between 65 and 80, and 15 percent of those whose fathers were still alive at 80.

Diastolic blood pressure was not related to paternal longevity.

"This study suggests that paternal premature death was associated with accelerated progression of systolic BP and higher occurrence of hypertension [high blood pressure] in offspring," write the researchers, who included INSERM's Mahmoud Zureik.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), systolic blood pressure is the key determinant for assessing the severity of high blood pressure for middle-aged and older adults and those at risk for heart disease.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: American Heart Association's 45th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, Washington, D.C., April 30-May 2, 2005. World Health Organization. WebMD Medical News: "High Blood Pressure Set to Soar Worldwide." American Heart Association. WebMD Medical News: "The New Normal in High Blood Pressure." News release, American Heart Association.