An estimated one in three people suffer from high blood pressure, a severely debilitating condition that puts us at risk of heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease. And even with an armory of drugs at our disposal, almost half of those on prescribed medication still suffer from hypertension.
Blood pressure latest studies reveal that the brain may hold the key to a better understanding of high blood pressure, according to research funded by the British Heart Foundation. A team of researchers from Bristol University, UK have been carrying out blood pressure latest studies into the possible causes of hypertension, hoping to use the research to find cures for hypertensive patients who don’t respond to current medication. Professor Julian Paton who oversaw the research, stated “some of the patients in our clinic are on as many as six or more tablets a day, and still have dangerously high blood pressure’. This makes a clear case for doing more to research why we get high blood pressure and ways to treat it.
Blood pressure and the brain
The focus of these blood pressure latest studies is on the relationship between high blood pressure and the brain, specifically the hypothalamus and the brain-stem. These house the nerve cells that transmit messages via the autonomous nervous system – the system which controls blood pressure. In stressful situations or ‘fight or flight’ conditions our sympathetic nervous system becomes hyperactive causing blood pressure to briefly rise. This is entirely normal and helps us evade dangerous situations. Higher blood pressure means more blood flow which in turn supplies the additional oxygen and nutrients to muscles.
As well as signals traveling from the brain to the blood vessels, the belief is that organs can send information to the brain. If there’s a narrowing of, for example, a renal artery – the artery that supplies blood to the Kidneys, and the kidney isn’t getting enough blood, it ‘screams’ at the brain to increase blood pressure.
Similarly if the brain thinks it’s not receiving enough blood it sends out signals to constrict blood vessels around the body. In people with high blood pressure however the brain is over-active, causing too much constriction of the blood vessels resulting in raised blood pressure. In many patients with hypertension the nerves around the base of the brain are narrowed with poor blood flow that’s why they send out an SOS for more blood, increasing blood pressure.
Cutting edge technology helps visualize flow of blood into the brain
The Bristol based team used a cutting-edge technique that involves radio-telemetry to record blood pressure remotely and continuously and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). This allowed them to visualize the brain and blood vessels as well as record changes in blood flow. The team continue to work to identify and manipulate the genes that control brain blood flow.
Further research is needed to find out what makes these nerve vessels constrict and become stiff, in order to be able to isolate the causes behind high blood pressure. By understanding how to reverse the issue of poor blood flow into the brain it should then be possible to bring about a reduction in blood pressure. Professor Paton says, based on these blood pressure latest studies we could see new treatments and medications within the next five to seven years.
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