By Alasdair Wilkins
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is one of the leading risk factors behind strokes, heart failure, aneurysms, and other deadly serious medical conditions. But here’s the weird thing about hypertension: we don’t actually know what causes it.
That may sound like a strange thing to say – surely, high blood pressure is the result of poor diet, or perhaps a genetic predisposition? And yes, both lifestyle choices and genetics have been shown to be correlated with hypertension, but they don’t actually cause the condition. In 95% of all cases of hypertension – a category known as essential hypertension – there is no medically recognized cause at all.
That may be about to change, thanks to researchers at the cardiology center of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital. They report the first conclusive evidence of a link between the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) and essential hypertension. HCMV is a common virus that infects most people at some point in their lives, but it often remains completely dormant, and so shows no symptoms.
But when the virus does become activated, it can then cause high blood pressure, a condition exacerbated by all those genetic and lifestyle factors. This knowledge could have a huge impact on the fight against controlling hypertension, and by extension working to prevent strokes, serious heart conditions, and other deadly diseases. If we can create a vaccine for HCMV, it could radically cut down on the incidence of essential hypertension.
Researcher Yang Xinchun explains:
“If we can get conclusive evidence of the relationship, we can get better medical vaccines and remedies for hypertension. It is the first time someone managed to find this relationship…so we need to undergo more tests with a wider scope of patients.”
The researchers stressed that a vaccine is still a long ways off, so it’s still crucially important for those with hypertension or at risk of the condition to control the other risk factors. Since we can’t change our genetics either, that pretty much comes down to altering diet and lifestyle to help control one’s blood pressure.