- New research suggests that cell phone usage may be connected to blood pressure levels.
- The more time a person spent on the phone the higher risk of having hypertension.
- Experts say the findings are interesting but more study is needed.
New research, published this month in the European Heart Journal—Digital Health, suggests a link between cell phone usage and hypertension—commonly known as high blood pressure. The study used data from 212,046 people who were part of the UK Biobank, a commonly used data set in European-focused research.
High blood pressure affects millions in the U.S. and is linked to a host of negative health outcomes including heart failure, heart attack, atrial fibrillation and stroke risk.
More time on the phone linked to increased risk of high blood pressure
The researchers looked at the follow up data from participants and found a correlation between higher cell phone usage and new cases of high blood pressure. They also looked at factors such as genetic risk for high blood pressure.
Participants were asked questions about their cell phone usage and how much time they spend on the phone making or receiving calls.
The researchers looked at that people who were on the phone about 30-59 minutes, 1-3 hours, 4-6 hours or more than 6 hours per week. The more time people were on the phone every week, the higher the chance they would have high blood pressure or hypertension.
People on the phone about 30-59 minutes a week had an 8% increased risk for hypertension. People on the phone 1-3 hours had a 13% increased risk, those on the phone 4 to 6 hours had a 16% increased risk and those on the phone over 6 hours every week had a 25% increased risk of high blood pressure.
The team also looked at if holding your phone in your hand or using a hands free device was connected to hypertension risk. But they found that the use of hands-free devices did not make for a significant shift in levels of new cases of high blood pressure.
Author Dr. Xianhui Qin shared in a press release that the research team is hopeful that the study can lead to new findings in the future while helping people make healthier choices now.
“Our findings suggest that talking on a mobile may not affect the risk of developing high blood pressure as long as weekly call time is kept below half an hour. More research is required to replicate the results, but until then it seems prudent to keep mobile phone calls to a minimum to preserve heart health,” said Qin.
Dr. Kenneth Perry, an emergency physician based at Trident Medical Center in South Carolina, says that more research will be needed before physicians can start recommending giving up on calls.
Perry was not involved in the research.
“The Idea for us to see so many patients who have these predispositions to hypertension, and then on top of that, to have this issue with possibly having connection with cell phone calls…leading or increasing your risk to hypertension is a pretty interesting and new tack that they can take with research,” Perry said.
Those participants who reported using a cell phone at least once per week were found to have a higher level of education, were more likely to engage in high levels of physical activity, and tended to have a higher income level as well. Cell phone users were also more likely to be smokers.
The researchers clarify more study needs to be done and they identified a few limitations to the study. For one, the average participant was white, middle-aged or older, and above the average health level of the British population. For another, the nature of the data makes it difficult to directly connect just the length of phone calls and the amount of cell phone usage with hypertension.
Taking healthier steps to avoid hypertension
Family physician Dr. Laura Purdy (MD) says that, while she wouldn’t directly reference this study with her patients in terms of a change in treatment, she does find that research like this can lead to people making healthier decisions overall when they come into her office and ask about it.
“But what I do tell people is, if you feel that you are concerned enough by the risk in this study, that you want to change something about what you’re doing, go for it. If you want to test your blood pressure more frequently, go for it, that’s not going to hurt you. If you want to back off on the number of calls that you make or receive on your cell phone because of this, go for it.”
Could research look at health impacts for younger people?
Perry, meanwhile, is hopeful that—as well as solidifying these findings—additional research can look at younger participants, including children, and ascertain whether suggestions about device usage should be changed.
“I think [it’s] easy to use this data as sort of that caution in the wind that says that maybe these devices are something that we should just keep an eye on, especially for our younger kids.”
The bottom line
A new study out of the UK looks at how spending time making or receiving calls on a cell phone is linked to increased risk of hypertension or high blood pressure.
The researchers found more time on the phone every week was linked to increased risk of high blood pressure. People spending the most time on the phone or over 6 hours a week had about a 25% increased risk of high blood pressure.
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