London: In what could open a new debate on what actually causes high blood pressure, a team of scientists have suggested that stiff arteries can be the main culprit.
In experiments over a computer model of a 'virtual human', they found that stiff arteries alone are enough to cause high blood pressure.
“The arterial stiffness represents a major therapeutic target. This is contrary to existing models, which typically explain high blood pressure in terms of defective kidney function,” explained Klas Pettersen, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
When blood pressure travels down the aorta from the heart, a special group of cells in the aortic wall, called baroreceptors, sense the pressure in this stretch of the aortic wall and send signals with this information to the nervous system.
If the blood pressure is too high, these cells send stronger signals and the body is able to lower blood pressure.
However, if the aorta gets stiffer, as typically happens with age, this stretch of the aorta is not as sensitive as it once was in measuring blood pressure.
With the stiffening of the wall that follows ageing, these sensors become less able to send signals that reflect the actual blood pressure.
“Our mathematical model predicts the quantitative effects of this process on blood pressure,” Pettersen emphasised.
If this is proven right, “arterial stiffness and baroreceptor signaling will become hotspot targets for the treatment of high blood pressure and the development of new medicines and medical devices”, said Stig W. Omholt from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
The model predictions were compared with data on the health history of 74,000 people, including blood sample collection from 65,000 people, said the study recently published in PLOS Computational Biology.
High blood pressure affects more than one billion people worldwide. But doctors cannot fully explain the cause of 90 percent of all cases.