10-minute scan ‘could rid millions of adults of high blood pressure’
- A 10-minute blood pressure scan could cure the condition for some sufferers
- Third of adults in the UK have hypertension, but for most the cause is unknown
- In one in 20 cases, high blood pressure is caused by aldosterone – tiny nodules
- The new test can see if this is the cause and the nodules can then be removed
Up to one in 20 people with high blood pressure could have their condition cured or dramatically improved thanks to a new 10-minute scan.
While around a third of adults in the UK have high blood pressure, for most the cause is unknown and the condition requires lifelong treatment with drugs.
But in one in 20 cases, the condition is caused by aldosterone, a steroid hormone produced by tiny nodules in the adrenal glands just above the kidneys.
The hormone causes salt to be retained in the body, driving up blood pressure.
Up to one in 20 people with high blood pressure could have their condition cured or dramatically improved thanks to a new 10-minute scan (file photo)
Until now, detection of these nodules was only possible with a difficult catheter exam that is available in only a handful of hospitals, and often fails.
But a new test uses an injection of radioactive dye which only sticks to the aldosterone-producing nodules, followed by a CT scan.
The nodules ‘glow’ for a few minutes after the injection, and are revealed as the obvious cause of the high blood pressure.
If they are limited to just one adrenal gland they can be removed through keyhole surgery.
As part of a new study, researchers recruited 128 people who had high blood pressure due to elevated levels of aldosterone.
They underwent the new test, which found that in 78 patients – nearly two thirds – it was caused by nodules in just one of their adrenal glands.
These patients then had the relevant adrenal gland removed using a surgery similar to that used for gallstones.
But a new test uses an injection of radioactive dye which only sticks to the aldosterone-producing nodules, followed by a CT scan (file photo)
The team found that, when combined with a urine test, they could detect individuals that could completely come off all blood pressure medication after the adrenal gland had been removed.
Out of the 78 patients who had surgery, 24 were able to cease their blood pressure mediation – meaning they had been cured of the condition.
Almost all other patients recorded a ‘substantial’ improvement in their blood pressure, allowing them to decrease their medication by at least half.
Minister of State for Health Will Quince said: ‘Around a third of adults in the UK have high blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
‘That’s why this technological breakthrough, made possible through government-backed funding, is hugely encouraging.
‘This revolutionary new CT scan has the ability to save lives by identifying nodules which cause high blood pressure so they can be removed – curing the condition so people can live healthier, happier lives.’
While around a third of adults in the UK have high blood pressure, for most the cause is unknown and the condition requires lifelong treatment with drugs (file photo)
Professor Morris Brown, co-senior author of the study from Queen Mary University of London, said: ‘These aldosterone-producing nodules are very small and easily overlooked on a regular CT scan.
‘When they glow for a few minutes after our injection, they are revealed as the obvious cause of Hypertension, which can often then be cured.
‘Until now, 99 per cent are never diagnosed because of the difficulty and unavailability of tests. Hopefully this is about to change.’
The findings were published in the journal Nature Medicine.
It is estimated that around 14.4 million people in the UK have high blood pressure.
Since high levels of aldosterone cause the condition in one in 20 cases, the new scan could benefit up to 720,000 people.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
High blood pressure, or hypertension, rarely has noticeable symptoms. But if untreated, it increases your risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
More than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure, although many won’t realise it.
The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is to have your blood pressure checked.
Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers. The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body.
The diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels. They’re both measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).
As a general guide:
- high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher
- ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
- low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower
- A blood pressure reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure if you don’t take steps to keep your blood pressure under control.
If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes.
Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as:
- heart disease
- heart attacks
- heart failure
- peripheral arterial disease
- aortic aneurysms
- kidney disease
- vascular dementia
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