Hypertension is a condition that affects millions of people around the world. Learn the connection between the immune system and hypertension – and how it affects your health.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is one of the leading factors in cardiovascular disease – and it affects millions of people. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 75 million adults have high blood pressure in the U.S.
Hypertension is having a systolic blood pressure of 130 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and a diastolic blood pressure of 80 mm Hg or higher. Furthermore, the American Heart Association (AHA) says that some factors increase the risk.
These factors include unhealthy diets, sedentary lifestyles, high stress, and high cholesterol increase the risk of hypertension. However, according to new studies at the University of Edinburgh, another factor can play a role in developing hypertension: the immune system.
According to the study, a specialized immune cell can affect the risk of developing hypertension.
“Our discovery sheds light on risk factors and, crucially, opens routes to investigate new drugs that could help patients,” said Prof. Matthew Bailey, lead researcher of the study.
The team’s findings are in the March 2019 volume of the European Heart Journal and are available online.
Effects of Cellular Debris-Eaters
For the study, researchers studied mouse models. They focused on white blood cells that form part of the immune system called macrophages.
Macrophages are cellular debris-eaters. They identify and “eat” foreign bodies that appear as a result of injuries and infections.
They also “eat” cellular debris, which are the remains of cells that no longer function. In addition, they also consume endothelin molecules, according to the current studies.
Endothelin is a hormone that stimulates blood vessels to narrow. By controlling the blood levels of endothelin, macrophages can help lower blood pressure.
They do this by properly relaxing the blood vessels. According to the study, when macrophage levels in the mice became normal, their blood pressure became healthy.
These findings remained consistent when the researchers repeated the experiment in mice with modified poor endothelin system functioning. Moreover, the link was verified even further in mice with drug-induced hypertension.
Potential for Treatments
The team analyzed macrophage activity in patients who used drugs to manage antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody vasculitis. This was to see if the findings applied to humans.
Antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody vasculitis is a condition that damages the blood vessels and the immune system. Researchers found that macrophage-lowering drugs (like cyclophosphamide) increased blood pressure readings.
According to the research team, these findings can help identify those who are at most risk for hypertension. In addition, they can lead to better therapies for people with hypertension.
However, more studies are necessary before the interaction between endothelin and macrophages is used as a therapeutic target. Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, says that undiagnosed hypertension can potentially lead to a fatal heart attack or stroke.
“This study shows for the first time that macrophages… can be involved in the control of blood pressure. More research is needed but these cells could be a new target for drugs to treat the condition,” said Pearson, who was not involved in the study.
There are various ways to treat high blood pressure before it gets worse and most have to do with leading a healthy lifestyle. Eating right and exercising regularly can go a long way to improve blood pressure levels.
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