High blood pressure genetic clues

Patient having blood pressure measured
Image caption High blood pressure increases the risk of stroke and heart attack

More than 20 new sections of genetic code have been linked to blood pressure by an international team of scientists.

Almost everyone will carry at least one of the genetic variants, according to studies published in Nature and Nature Genetics.

Researchers believe their findings could be used to develop new treatments.

The British Heart Foundation said lifestyle was still key to a healthy blood pressure.

High blood pressure - or hypertension - can run in families as well as being influenced by obesity, exercise and the amount of salt in the diet.

While the lifestyle risks are well known, the genetic element of hypertension has been poorly understood.

Researchers now say they have made a "major advance" in understanding the role of genes.

In the first study, scientists from 24 countries around the world analysed data from more than 200,000 people.

They identified 16 new points on the genome which were linked to blood pressure.

One of the lead researchers, Prof Mark Caulfield, from Barts and The London Medical School, said each genetic variant was in at least 5% of people, while some were much more common.

"This is having an influence across the population," he said.

Uncovering the genetic basis of blood pressure has revealed processes in the body which could one day be targeted with drugs.

One series of chemical reactions involving nitric oxide, which opens up blood vessels, has been highlighted as a potential target.

Gene puzzle

Prof Caulfield said: "There is substantial potential for moving the findings from the lab to the clinic.

"There are, in development or in existence, drugs which could be considered."

However, researchers say they have still uncovered only 1% of the genetic contribution to blood pressure.

A second study, presented in Nature Genetics, identified a further six new stretches of genetic code.

The British Heart Foundation's medical director, Prof Peter Weissberg, said: "Researchers from across the world have now identified some of the genes linked to blood pressure control, which could pave the way for new treatments in the future.

"But your genes are only one piece of the puzzle. You are less likely to have high blood pressure if you stick to a healthy diet, do plenty of exercise, and maintain a healthy weight."

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