Researchers part-funded by the BHF have found 107 new gene regions associated with high blood pressure, potentially enabling doctors to identify at-risk patients and target treatments.
The study, led by Imperial College London and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), suggests that by using genetic testing, doctors could target medication to certain patients with high blood pressure and advise on appropriate lifestyle changes to reduce a risk of heart disease and stroke.The findings are published in Nature Genetics.
What is hypertension?
High blood pressure – or hypertension – means that your blood pressure is consistently higher than the recommended level. High blood pressure is not usually something that you can feel or notice, but over time if it is not treated, your heart may become enlarged making your heart pump less effectively. This can lead to heart failure.
Hypertension affects around one in three adults in the UK, and is a leading risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke and death.
New drug targets
The researchers tested 9.8 million genetic variants from 420,000 UK Biobank participants and cross-referenced these with their blood pressure data. Of the 107 new gene regions, many were expressed in high levels in blood vessels and cardiovascular tissue, and could be potential new drug targets for hypertension treatments.
A risk score to predict stroke and coronary heart disease
The team also developed a genetic risk score by linking health and hospital data from UK Biobank participants with their blood pressure genetics, and showed that the score could be used to predict increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. The higher a patient's risk score, the more likely they were to have high blood pressure by the age of 50.
If such a genetic risk score could be measured in early life, it might be possible to take a personalised medicine approach to offset a person's high risk of stroke and heart disease. This could involve lifestyle interventions such as changing salt intake, weight management, reducing alcohol consumption and increasing exercise.
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