About 6 million Australians aged 18 years and over have high blood pressure.
Of these, more than two thirds had uncontrolled or unmanaged high blood pressure (not taking medication), representing 4 million adult Australians.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is suggested to be one of the leading risk factors for heart disease.
The process in which high blood pressure causes heart disease is not completely understood.
But now scientists at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute have found that high blood pressure could be caused by specific signaling from the brain.
The condition could promote heart disease by altering stem cells with the bone marrow.
In the study, the researchers demonstrate how an overactive sympathetic nervous system causes elevated blood pressure.
The system can instruct bone marrow stem cells to produce more white blood cells that clog up blood vessels.
The Baker Institute’s Head of Haematopoiesis and Leukocyte Biology, Associate Professor Andrew Murphy says the findings represent a new era of heart disease research.
“Hypertension is a major, independent risk factor of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, but we need more information to determine how it is resulting in heart attacks and strokes,” said Associate Professor Murphy.
Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is a build-up of cholesterol plaque in the walls of arteries, causing obstruction of blood flow.
“We now know that significance changes in the immune system contributes significantly to heart disease,” he said.
“We aimed to determine how the sympathetic nervous system through the brain directly promotes atherosclerosis in the setting of hypertension.”
“We have discovered that this form of high blood pressure, often associated with stress, causes changes within the bone marrow leading to increased white blood cells circulating though our vessels.
This is significant as the general view of hypertension is that it is mainly a disease of the blood vessels, which means other heart damaging events are missed.”
The team is now exploring the specific molecules involved, which may shed light as to why some current therapies are ineffective.
They also suggest that managing stress, anxiety and pain are likely to help in controlling this form of hypertension and the effects it has on the body’s bone marrow stem cells.
The study is published in Haematologica.
How to prevent or treat high blood pressure
You can do 8 things in daily life:
Keep a healthy weight. Ask your doctor if you need to lose weight.
Be physically active. Get moving for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
Eat a healthy diet. Choose an eating plan rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy and low in saturated fat and added sugars.
Cut down on salt. Many Americans eat more sodium (found in salt) than they need. Most of the salt comes from processed food (such as soup and baked goods).
Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day; women no more than 1 drink a day.
Don’t smoke. Smoking raises your risk for heart disease, stroke, and other health problems.
Get a good night’s sleep. Tell your doctor if you’ve been told you snore or sound like you stop breathing briefly when you sleep—a possible sign of sleep apnea. Treating sleep apnea and getting a good night’s sleep can help reduce blood pressure.
Take prescribed drugs as directed. If you need drugs to help lower your blood pressure, you still should follow the lifestyle changes described above.