According to a recently published Australian study, hypertension could be an auto-immune disease, opening the possibility of exploring new methods to treat the condition which at its extreme may also lead to death. Hypertension, characterised by elevated blood pressure, is the principal cause of heart-attacks, strokes and kidney failure. It is associated with obesity,stress and an unhealthy diet, though its exact cause remains unknown.
"It's estimated that hypertension is actually the single most important biomedical risk factor as a cause of death and disability worldwide," said associate professor Grant Drummond from Melbourne's Monash University.
Drummond and his colleagues found that stimulating the immune system in mice could cause hypertension, while dampening down this immune response could restore their blood pressure back to normal levels.
"We've found in our laboratory models that stimuli that cause hypertension actually cause an increase in the activation of B cells and an excessive production of antibodies," Drummond told ABC channel.
"And what we've further found is that these anti-bodies seem to get lodged within the walls of arteries and that promotes an inflammatory response in those arteries, that ultimately leads to the arteries becoming scarred and stiffened," he said, linking these characteristics to hypertension.
Certain B cells or immune cells produce an excessive number of anti-bodies in response to factors such as stress and high-salt consumption, according to the study published in medical journal Hypertension. The researchers also found that mice that grew without mature B cells were protected against developing hypertension. Blocking the activity of these cells in normal mice led to a return of normal blood pressure.
Drummond believes that this study could help to develop treatment for the 15 to 20 percent of people suffering from hypertension, who are resistant to conventional therapies.