Scots scientists tackle high blood pressure threat

The blood pressure of a patient is taken. Picture: PA
The blood pressure of a patient is taken. Picture: PA
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SCOTTISH scientists are taking part in a major study to tackle high blood pressure – the condition which poses the biggest risk to life worldwide.

Clinicians from the University of Edinburgh have recruited the 500th patient for the trial, which will evaluate the most effective drug combinations for newly-diagnosed patients.

The disease is known as a 
“silent killer” because it often has no warning signs or symptoms, yet it is one of the most important risk factors leading to heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers want to know if prescribing two drugs at the start of treatment is better than the more common approach of starting patients on one drug and only introducing a second if the first is not effective enough.

People with high blood pressure are three times more likely to develop heart disease and stroke. They are also twice as likely to die from these conditions compared with people who have normal blood 
pressure. It is estimated that a third of people north of the Border aged 16 years and over have raised blood pressure.

Around 32 per cent of sufferers are male and 29 per cent female, with the condition becoming more prevalent with age. Figures from the Scottish Public Health Observatory show there were an estimated 5,700 deaths in men and 6,100 in women, who are less likely to be diagnosed pre-menopause, in 2011 in Scotland related to the condition.

The two drugs in the university trial – losartan and hydrochlorothiazide – work to lower blood pressure in different ways.

Losartan blocks a hormone that narrows blood vessels leading to high blood pressure. Hydrochlorothiazide works by increasing the loss of salt in urine – linked to high blood pressure.

The study, designed by the British Hypertension Society, is being run with a £2.6 million grant from the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Professor David Webb, of the BHF centre for cardiovascular science at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We believe that patients’ blood pressure will be controlled much better if they take two drugs from the outset as patients who first take one, and then a second drug, never appear to catch up to patients who were given both drugs in the first instance. If this is indeed the case, it could make a significant difference for many thousands of patients.”

Professor Morris Brown, of the University of Cambridge, leading the study, said: “Around 16 million people in the UK are affected by high blood pressure. This study aims to look at how we can improve treatments to control blood pressure, and consequently reduce associated risks of stroke and heart attacks.”

As well as the University of Edinburgh, other universities involved include Glasgow, Dundee, Cambridge, Imperial College, Leicester and Queen Mary University of London.