Genetic Testing Disease Risk Profiling Hypertension

Roughly 50 million people in the United States have hypertension, or high blood pressure. Hypertension is often called a silent disorder because many people who have high blood pressure do not “feel” any symptoms. While other factors may cause high blood pressure, a relationship exists between hypertension and genetics.

Diagnosing Hypertension

The only way to diagnose hypertension is by taking a blood-pressure test. Blood-pressure tests measure two factors: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. Diastolic pressure measures the pressure when your heart is not beating. If, after several tests, you have high blood pressure over 140/90, or a systolic measurement of 140 and a diastolic pressure of 90, you may be diagnosed as having hypertension.

Your physician may also tell you that you have hypertension if either your systolic or diastolic pressure is consistently over 140 or 90 respectively.

Hypertension Causes

Experts have not yet identified the reasons why hypertension develops in more than nine out of 10 people who have high blood pressure. Known factors that contribute to high blood pressure include:

  • aging
  • birth-control pills
  • eating excessive salt
  • endocrine gland disorders
  • genetics
  • kidney disorders
  • sleep apnea
  • some asthma medications
  • thyroid disorders.

In addition, lifestyle can have an impact on hypertension. Those who do not exercise, do not eat a healthy diet, do not maintain a healthy weight and do not limit their alcohol consumption are more likely to develop hypertension than those who do.

The Relationship of Genetics to Hypertension

Scientists have long known that there is a link between genetics and hypertension. This means that you are more likely to get hypertension or be able to pass on the risk of getting hypertension if someone in your immediate family has high blood pressure. The odds increase if more than one close family member has hypertension.

Studies of the relationship of genetics to hypertension have identified a link between mutations in the BMPR2 gene and a serious condition known as pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). PAH differs from common hypertension in that it is characterized by occlusion of the smallest pulmonary arteries. PAH can lead to progressive heart failure when left untreated.

Not everyone who carries the BMPR2 gene mutation automatically develops this serious form of hypertension. However, if you find, through genetic testing, that you do have this gene mutation, you can consult your doctor about ways to help prevent development of PAH.

Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension - PAH - BMPR2 Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension

Hypertension Treatments

Many physicians recommend lifestyle changes to treat the lower levels of hypertension. This involves eating a healthy diet, stopping smoking, limiting alcohol consumption and exercising regularly. In fact, your doctor will probably recommend lifestyle changes even if you have to take medications.

The following medications are often prescribed to treat hypertension:

  • Alpha-1 blockers help keep blood vessels from constricting by blocking certain hormones.
  • Alpha-2 agonists help decrease blood vessels from constricting by slowing down your central nervous system.
  • Beta blockers are designed to help lower your heart rate.
  • Calcium channel blockers slow down the absorption of calcium into cells.
  • Dihydropyridine calcium channel blockers (DHPs) are designed to slow down the processing of calcium into cells, leading to more relaxed blood vessels.
  • Diuretics help your body rid itself of excess salt and water.

If your physician prescribes medication, you will probably be taking some form of medication for the rest of your life.

Hypertension can be very serious, even life-threatening. So it is important to get your blood pressure tested regularly, particularly because hypertension does not always have recognizable symptoms.

Resources

American Society of Hypertension (n.d.). Understanding hypertension. Retrieved September 18, 2008, from the American Society of Hypertension Web site: http://www.ash-us.org/assets-new/hypertension/pdf_files/Patient Brochurer3.pdf.

Silver, Cheryl Simon (2004). Physicians recommend gene test for families with hypertension. Retrieved September 18, 2008, from the Genome News Network Web site: http://www.genomenewsnetwork.org/articles/2004/07/23/hypertension.php.

University of Maryland Medical Center (2004). Scientists uncover how excess salt leads to hypertension. Retrieved September 18, 2008, from the University of Maryland Medical Center Web site: http://www.umm.edu/news/releases/salt_hypertension.htm.