Thousands of heart attacks and strokes could soon be prevented after scientists have found 500 new genes that influence blood pressure. People with these genes are over three times more likely to develop hypertension – the medical term for high blood pressure, researchers found. Hypertension is a known cause of heart attacks and stroke. The biggest ever study of its kind used data from more than one million people to make the finding, meaning there are now more than 1,000 genes known to be involved in the regulation of blood pressure. Professor Jeremy Pearson, from the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, said, ‘Having high blood pressure puts you at significantly higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Unfortunately, some people simply draw the short genetic straw and must work harder to stay healthy. Knowing which genes cause high blood pressure may help us to spot the people who are at risk before the damage is done.’
Researchers, from the National Institute for Health Research, analysed the DNA of more than one million people, almost half of which came from the UK Biobank. The participants’ DNA information was matched to their genetic risk of developing high blood pressure. Results, published in Nature Genetics, suggest all of the newly discovered genes raise a person’s risk of high blood pressure by 3.34 times. They also make an individual 1.52 times more likely to suffer a related complication, such as a heart attack or stroke. Some of the newly-discovered gene regions are also involved in other diseases and could, therefore, be treated with existing drugs. For example, one of the DNA sections is targeted by the type 2 diabetes medication canagliflozin. Due to canagliflozin already being known to be safe, it could be a quick and cost-effective way of treating patients who do not respond to existing hypertension therapies.
Professor Mark Caulfield, from the Queen Mary University of London, who was also involved in the study, said, ‘This is the most major advance in blood pressure genetics to date. We now know there are over 1,000 genetic signals which influence our blood pressure. This provides us with many new insights into how our bodies regulate blood pressure and have revealed several new opportunities for future drug development. With this information, doctors could target early lifestyle interventions for those with a high genetic risk, such as losing weight, reducing alcohol consumption and increasing exercise.’
For most people, hypertension is defined as a blood pressure reading of 140/90 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) or above. The first figure refers to systolic blood pressure, which occurs with each pump of the heart. The second, diastolic, reading shows blood pressure during the relaxed phase between heartbeats. A lower threshold is set for heart patients. Earlier this year US authorities changed the definition of high blood pressure from 140mmGH to 120mmGH, allowing millions more people to access medication to combat the problem. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), the UK’s health body, is due to announce whether it will follow suit next year, which would make 14 million more people eligible for blood pressure lowering drugs.
Credit: Alexandra Thompson for MailOnline, 17 September 2018.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN IF I HAVE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
High blood pressure, or hypertension, rarely has noticeable symptoms. But if untreated, it increases your risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes. More than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure, although many won’t realise it. The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is to have your blood pressure checked. Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers. The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body. The diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels. They’re both measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). As a general guide:
- high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher
- ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
- low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower
- A blood pressure reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure if you don’t take steps to keep your blood pressure under control.
If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes. Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of some serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as:
- heart disease
- heart attacks
- heart failure
- peripheral arterial disease
- aortic aneurysms
- kidney disease
- vascular dementia