GUANGZHOU, China — Using a mobile phone for just 30 minutes a week may increase the risk of high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes, according to new research. Individuals who spent that amount of time talking, even using hands-free devices, saw their risk for hypertension rise by 12 percent. Moreover, spending six hours a week on the phone raised this risk by 25 percent.
This could be contributing to the growing number of cases of the deadly disease, as rates have more than doubled in recent decades.
“The number of minutes spent talking on a mobile phone matters for heart health, with more minutes meaning greater risk,” says study author Professor Xianhui Qin of Southern Medical University in China. “Years of use or employing a hands-free set-up had no influence on the likelihood of developing high blood pressure.”
The Chinese team analyzed data from over 212,000 individuals over the age of 30 from the UK Biobank, a database containing genetic and other health information on around half a million British people. Participants who spoke on a mobile phone for 30 minutes or more per week saw their risk for high blood pressure rise in comparison to those who used their phones less frequently. The team tracked the participants for an average of 12 years.
The study also found that weekly usage times of 30-59 minutes, one to three hours, four to six hours, and more than six hours were associated with increased risks of eight, 13, 16, and 25 percent, respectively. These figures were compared to participants who spent less than five minutes per week making or receiving calls.
Furthermore, the likelihood of developing high blood pressure rose by 33 percent for those with a high genetic risk who spent at least 30 minutes a week talking on a mobile phone. Overall, mobile phone users had a seven-percent higher risk than non-users. It is believed that the electromagnetic fields emitted by phones are behind this phenomenon, which has also been linked to brain tumors.
“Our findings suggest that talking on a mobile phone may not affect the risk of developing high blood pressure as long as weekly call time is kept below half an hour,” Professor Qin says in a media release.
Almost three-quarters of the global population over the age of 10 own a mobile phone, according to estimates. Nearly 1.3 billion adults between 30 and 79 have high blood pressure, compared to fewer than 600 million in the 1970s.
Mobile phones emit low levels of radiofrequency energy, which studies have linked to increases in blood pressure after short-term exposure, Prof. Qin explains. Results of previous studies on mobile phone use and blood pressure have been inconsistent, possibly because they included time spent answering calls, texting, and gaming.
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Prof. Qin and the team examined the relationship among a group who were free of hypertension at the beginning of the study. They collected information on mobile phone usage, including years of use, hours per week, and use of hands-free devices or speakerphones through a self-reported touchscreen questionnaire. Participants who used a mobile phone at least once a week to make or receive calls were defined as “mobile phone users.” Overall, 88 percent fell in the mobile phone user category.
The researchers also considered factors such as age, sex, BMI, race, socioeconomic status, family history of hypertension, education, smoking status, blood pressure, blood fats, inflammation, blood glucose, kidney function, and use of medications to lower cholesterol or blood glucose levels.
“More research is needed to replicate the results, but until then, it seems prudent to minimize mobile phone calls to preserve heart health,” Qin concludes.
The findings are published in European Heart Journal – Digital Health.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.