Millions of people in the United States and across the world have hypertension, a condition that, without proper management, can contribute to the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that approximately 75 million adults in the U.S. live with hypertension.
American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines from 2017 define “hypertension” as systolic blood pressure (during a heartbeat) of 130 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher and diastolic blood pressure (when the heart is resting) of 80 mm Hg or higher.
The AHA also name lack of physical activity, an unhealthful diet, high cholesterol, and stress as some of the primary modifiable factors that increase the risk of hypertension.
New research by scientists at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom has now uncovered another factor that seems to play a role in the development of this condition.
The study, which the British Heart Foundation funded, found that a type of specialized immune cell could make a real difference to the risk of hypertension.
“Hypertension affects millions of people across the globe, including 70 percent of people over 70,” says lead researcher Prof. Matthew Bailey.
“Our discovery sheds light on risk factors and, crucially, opens routes to investigate new drugs that could help patients,” he adds.
Prof. Bailey and team’s findings appear in the European Heart Journal, and they are available online.
Cellular debris-eaters and blood pressure
In the new study, the researchers worked with mouse models and zeroed in on macrophages, a type of white blood cell that forms part of the immune system.
The role of macrophages is to identify and “eat up” foreign bodies that are present due to injury and infection. The immune cells also “eat” cellular debris, which consists of the remains of cells that are no longer functional.