“Computer simulations show that high blood pressure can be entirely explained by arterial stiffening as we age,” say researchers.

Researchers for years have invested a great deal of time investigating the possible causes of high blood pressure.  While doctors can explain the cause of hypertension in about 10% of people with the lifetime condition, the remaining 90% is unclear.  While the number of people around the world with high blood pressure increases, researchers continue to grapple over this age-old dilemma and even fiercely debate about

We just learned from the MIT Technology Review and Reserachgate.com about a new study conducted by Dr. Klas Pettersen from the NorwegianUniversity of Life Science that is quite intriguing.   Dr. Petterson and his team of researchers according to MIT Technology Review, “created a computer model of the way that major blood vessels stiffen as they age and say this process can entirely account for the measured increases [of blood pressure] in the population in general.”

The report explained that in most people, their systolic blood pressure rises throughout their lives. The diastolic blood pressure, on the other hand, tends to remain constant or begin to decline after middle age. Consequently, many people over the age of 50 experience high blood pressure.

The way our body monitors our blood pressure changes is clear to researchers.  In case you were wondering, the biological “mechanisms involved consist of sensors embedded in our major arterial walls that monitor changes in pressure and then trigger other changes in our body to increase or reduce the pressure as necessary, such as the regulation of the volume of fluid in the blood vessels.”  What is not known, according to the MIT report, is why does this biological system not respond properly as we age?

Simply put, this biological system seems to not reduce the volume of fluid in our blood in order to decrease the pressure when it senses a high systolic pressure when we age.  Dr. Petterson and his colleagues tested that the sensors in our arterial walls do not directly measure pressure, but instead measure strain, which is the deformation of the arterial walls.”  As our arterial walls stiffen in response to the natural ageing process, the sensors lose their ability to monitor changes in pressure and therefore are less able to compensate.

Let’s get back to the computer model we mentioned at the beginning of this post and the role it played in this interesting study.  The researchers led by Dr. Petterson used a computer model to simulate the stiffening of the arterial walls and how much it would increase blood pressure as a result of the body’s inability to compensate. With the computer model the researchers were able to see how blood pressure increases with age.  Pettersen and co say their model exactly reproduces the observed changes in blood pressure. “We demonstrate quantitatively that arterial stiffening seems sufficient to explain age-related emergence of hypertension,” they say.

Petterson concluded that, “The results support the view that a major target for treating chronic hypertension in the elderly is the reestablishment of a proper baroreflex (regulation of the volume of fluid in the blood vessels) response.”  Another theory, reported by MIT, is that the apparatus for blood pressure monitoring in the body is actually intact in people with high blood pressure and it’s simply the stiffening that’s the problem.

If this is the case then the focus of high blood pressure treatments should be the arterial stiffening.  If researchers can now figure out how to reduce the stiffening, then the way our body generally monitors blood pressure prior to middle age will be restored.

Looks like Dr. Petterson and his team have given researchers something new to look out and study in the future.  Let’s hope that we will soon hear about follow up and further research on this finding.

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