A breakthrough blood pressure study could prevent thousands of heart attacks and strokes each year and it all has to do with genetics, experts announced Monday.
The discovery was made by researchers from Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London, who conducted the largest global genetic study and found over 500 new gene regions responsible for influencing a person's blood pressure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high blood pressure is the primary cause of death for almost 1,000 people in the U.S. each day, and is linked to heart attacks, strokes, chronic heart failure, and kidney disease.
It is widely accepted that certain lifestyle risk factors play a role in high blood pressure and experts have known that the condition can also be inherited, however, the role genes play in blood pressure has not been well understood until now.
The latest study, published in Nature Genetics, said nearly a third of the estimated heritability for blood pressure can now be explained.
"This is the most major advance in blood pressure genetics to date. We now know that there are over 1,000 genetic signals which influence our blood pressure," Mark Caulfield, a professor at Queen Mary University of London, said in a statement.
Researchers set out to compare groups with the highest genetic risk of high blood pressure and those with the lowest risk.
They established that all the genetic variants were associated with higher blood pressure and were 3.34 times more likely to have an increased risk of hypertension and 1.52 times more prone to poor cardiovascular outcomes.
Caulfield noted that the findings provided greater insight into how the body regulates blood pressure, and provided opportunities for future drug developments.
"With this information, we could calculate a person's genetic risk score for high blood pressure in later life," Caulfield said. "Taking a precision medicine approach, doctors could target early lifestyle interventions to those with a high genetic risk, such as losing weight, reducing alcohol consumption and increasing exercise."
The findings have the potential to be revolutionary.
"Knowing which genes cause high blood pressure may help us to spot the people who are at risk, before the damage is done," Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said in a statement. "Those at risk can be treated — either with medication or lifestyle changes — potentially preventing thousands of heart attacks and strokes every year."
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