May 11, 2009 - A group of genes may raise the risks associated with high blood pressure, such as heart attack and stroke.
Researchers found that 10 genetic variants individually explained about 1% of blood pressure variation after accounting for other risk factors, like age, gender, and excess weight. But when acting together, these blood pressure genes may account for as much as a 34% increase in stroke risk and 21% greater risk of heart attack and heart disease-related complications.
“This is a major advance because it identifies novel pathways that may expand our current understanding of the determinants of blood pressure and highlights potential targets for new drugs to treat or possibly even prevent hypertension,” researcher Christopher Newton-Cheh, MD, MPH, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Human Genetic Research and Cardiovascular Research Center, says in a news release.
The Search for a Blood Pressure Gene
In two studies, published in Nature Genetics, researchers from the Global BPgen and the CHARGE consortium looked at the genetic maps of more than 60,000 people to identify potential regions and genes associated with high blood pressure.
The results showed that the top 10 genetic variants for systolic and diastolic blood pressure (the top and bottom numbers in blood pressure measurements, measured in millimeters of mercury or mmHg) were each associated with about a 1.0 and 0.5 mmHg increase, respectively. The prevalence of high blood pressure among the participants also increased as the number of implicated genetic variants increased.
Researchers found that people who had very few of the associated blood pressure genes had blood pressure levels that were several mmHg lower than those with multiple variants. They say a prolonged increase of this magnitude (as little as 5 mmHg) is enough to increase a person’s risk of stroke by 34% and heart disease by 21%.
“These findings suggest exciting new avenues for blood pressure treatments that have not been explored because we had no way of knowing the gene regions were involved in blood pressure regulation,” Newton-Cheh says. “The next phase of our research will focus on finding which genes in these regions are causal, clarifying how they lead to changes in blood pressure and determining how those effects can be modified.” In the long term, early identification of persons at genetic risk for high blood pressure could potentially lead to more effective and individualized prevention efforts.
High blood pressure affects one in three adults in the United States. Hypertension can lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and other health problems, and causes more than 7 million deaths worldwide each year. People with high blood pressure can reduce their readings to healthy levels by losing weight, cutting back on salt and alcohol, exercising, and by using blood pressure-lowering medications, if required.