People with high blood pressure may be at an increased risk of developing common heart valve disorder, researchers said. The findings showed that higher blood pressure in early life was associated with a significantly greater future risk of mitral regurgitation – a condition which makes the heart less efficient at pumping blood around the body, and in severe cases can lead to heart failure.
“Our research suggests this common and disabling valve disorder is not an inevitable consequence of ageing, as previously assumed, but may be preventable,” said lead author Kazem Rahimi, Professor from The George Institute for Global Health at the University of Oxford.
Mitral regurgitation leads to a backflow of blood into the heart, causing symptoms such as shortness of breath, tiredness, dizziness and chest pain. It is more common in older people, and may be associated with a greater risk of mortality. The study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, followed 5.5 million adults in the UK over 10 years.
Despite significant advances in the understanding of valve disease, mitral regurgitation has until now been largely considered a degenerative disorder, resulting from a weakening of the valve over time due to ‘wear and tear’. This has led medical practitioners to focus on treatment, namely surgery to repair or replace the valve, rather than prevention.
Further research is needed to test whether lowering blood pressure, through exercise, diet or blood pressure-lowering drugs, could reduce the risk of the disorder occurring, the study suggested.
“With worldwide ageing and population growth, we are likely to see an increasing number of cases of this condition,” Rahimi said. “We need to find effective and affordable measures to tackle it, and our study suggests one possible avenue for prevention, by reducing high blood pressure,” Rahimi added.