Hypertension-causing adrenal gland is now detectable and simple to treat.
University of Cambridge researchers have developed a new way to identify people with curable high blood pressure. According to a statement published in the Nature Genetics journal, around one in twenty people with a strain of high blood pressure caused by a hormone imbalance, around 10 percent of 16 million cases, are curable. This imbalance is due to small, benign nodules, or tumors, in their adrenal glands, which are located next to the kidneys and have been known to be a rare cause of hypertension since the 1950s.

The research, led by clinical pharmacologists from Cambridge University and Addenbrooke’s Hospital, used innovative gene sequencing to show that 90 percent of the tiny tumors have gene mutations, which let excess sodium and calcium into the adrenal cells and cause unnecessary production of the aldosterone hormone. In other words, the hormone stimulates the kidneys to retain more salt than is healthy for the body and increases blood pressure.

Prof. Morris Brown, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology at Cambridge and Consultant Physician at Addenbrooke’s, has developed a cutting-edge screening process that uses an ultra-sensitive ‘PET-CT’ scanner combined with advanced genetic testing to identify the tumors and diagnose them quickly. Until now it has been difficult to detect some of the nodules on traditional CT scans, because they are so small. However, now they can be easily detected and removed by keyhole surgery, completely curing the hypertension.

British Heart Foundation Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy Pearson, commented that because standard techniques for detecting the tiny adrenal nodules are limited, “this brand-new combination of genetic testing and high-tech scanning will allow clinicians to work out quickly and accurately if someone has high blood pressure as a result of these problems with their adrenal gland.” He described the development as exciting, because it means that “this group of patients can be completely cured of high blood pressure once they have been identified, so the quicker they are diagnosed the better.” Nevertheless, early diagnosis is essential.

Brown commented that the remarkable collaboration between laboratories in four European countries “illustrates how gene technology can be used to identify specific causes for common diseases which can now be cured rather than requiring lifelong drug treatment.”

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