High Blood Pressure Linked to Inflammation

Image for hypertension article Data from the Women’s Health Study, published in 1998, indicated that women with the most inflammation in their blood had a seven-fold increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Since then, research has continued in this area. For example, Harvard Medical School researchers have shown that inflammation may trigger high blood pressure.

About the Study

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School published their results in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Lead researcher Dr. Howard Sesso and his colleagues studied 21,000 women health professionals aged 45 years or older for an average period of eight years. All the women were participants in the larger Women’s Health Study who were initially free of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease. For each woman, Dr. Sesso and his colleagues recorded a baseline blood level of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the body. During the study period, about ¼ of the women went on to develop hypertension. Researchers then correlated each woman’s initial blood level of C-reactive protein with her risk of later developing high blood pressure. In the analysis, they corrected for other cardiovascular risk factors such as older age, obesity , inactivity, smoking, heavy alcohol intake, family history of premature heart disease, high cholesterol , diabetes, and use of hormone replacement therapy. The researchers found that C-reactive protein levels are significantly and independently associated with the future development of hypertension. After correcting for other coronary risk factors, women in the study with the highest levels at baseline were about 50% more likely to develop high blood pressure than those with the lowest levels. This result held true, Dr. Sesso says, even for women with no coronary risk factors and those with very low levels of baseline blood pressure. “These data provide evidence that inflammation may be an important mechanism through which hypertension develops,” the researchers conclude.

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