Scientists find new cause of high blood pressure, heart disease

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In a study from St George’s and elsewhere, scientists found 119 areas in the genome that help to determine the size and shape of blood vessels at the back of the eye.

They found that an increase in the “twisting” of the arteries could cause high blood pressure and heart disease.

It’s relatively easy to take a high-resolution digital image of the back of the eye, allowing medical professionals and researchers to visualize the retina and its associated blood vessels and nerves.

The eyes can act as a “window” into the body, allowing researchers to directly study the characteristics of these blood vessels and gain information about the body.

Scientists have previously shown that the shape and size of blood vessels on the retina are associated with health conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

However, until now, little was known about how genetics play a role in determining the architectural characteristics of these blood vessels.

In the study, researchers studied retinal images from nearly 53,000 people who were enrolled in a large study called the UK Biobank.

They applied artificial intelligence (AI) technology to the images to quickly and automatically distinguish between the different types of blood vessels (arteries and veins), and to measure blood vessel width and the extent to which the vessels twist and turn.

The team then used a technique called a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to determine whether there were similarities in the DNA of people with similar blood vessel characteristics.

They carried this out on the genetic data of 52,798 UK Biobank members.

Together with the UK Biobank, they identified 119 sections of the genome that are associated with retinal blood vessel shape and size characteristics—more than any previous study.

Of the 119 sections found, 89 regions were linked to arterial twisting.

The level of twisting and turning of retinal arteries was the feature that was most strongly genetically determined.

A higher level of twisting to the arteries also appeared to cause high diastolic blood pressure and heart disease. Diastolic blood pressure is a measure of the pressure in the arteries when the heart is between beats.

The team says this genetic information is a vital piece of the puzzle in our understanding and could pave the way for new treatments in the future.

If you care about blood pressure, please read studies about frequent naps linked to high blood pressure, and Beetroot juice could help lower high blood pressure.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about Zinc linked to lower death risk in heart disease, and results showing intensive blood pressure control can lower risk of heart muscle damage.

The study was conducted by Professor Christopher Owen et al and published in PLOS Genetics.

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