Treating high blood pressure may soon be as easy as getting a Covid jab

Daily tablets could soon be replaced by a twice-yearly injection, transforming patients' lives

One in 8 deaths worldwide are linked to high blood pressure. PA
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“If you don’t know your blood pressure, it’s like not knowing the value of your company,” the Turkish-American heart surgeon and TV personality Dr Mehmet Oz once quipped.

One in eight deaths worldwide is thought to be the result of high blood pressure, or hypertension. Left untreated, the condition raises the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other severe health problems, and it condition plagues, on average, a quarter of men and a fifth of women. In certain places, the figures are far higher – in Central and Eastern Europe, it is as many as 40 per cent of men, and in the Sahel, more than a third of women. In the Middle East, hypertension levels are also high, ranging from 20 per cent in Iran to 30 per cent in Oman. Across the GCC, more than a third of adults have hypertension or diabetes, or both, and the average patient with heart disease is almost a decade younger than in the West, according to a recent paper by two Oman-based doctors in the Journal of Human Hypertension (JHH).

n the Middle East, hypertension levels range from 20 per cent in Iran to 30 per cent in Oman

The condition is so prevalent that there is hardly a medical practice in the world where doctors do not start an exam by taking a patient’s blood pressure. Where the condition is chronic, they commonly prescribe daily tablets. The global market for antihypertensive drugs is worth more than $20 billion, and is expected to reach $30 billion by the end of the decade.

This week, doctors in the UK announced trials for a new course of treatment that, if successful, could revolutionise the industry, and transform the lives of people who suffer from chronic hypertension. The answer, doctors from Queen Mary University London and the UK National Health Service believe, could be a twice-yearly injection.

The causes of hypertension are often a mystery, though not always. In some cases, it is thought to be genetic. In most cases, however, lifestyle factors are clearly at play.

In another paper in JHH, published last year, Drs Majd Abboud and Sabine Karam from St George Hospital University Medical Centre in Beirut write that, in the Middle East, “modifiable factors” are a major cause. They include the usual suspects – “excessively high rates of smoking and obesity”.

That these are all “modifiable factors”, by definition, suggests the obvious: that prevention is really the best cure. Individuals can keep their own blood pressure low through diet and exercise, first and foremost, but they can also help their families by ensuring a more healthy environment for their children. Some experts have suggested that suspected genetic causes for hypertension may be down to the fact that families usually have similar lifestyles.

But Drs Abboud and Karam also point to other, more macro causes, including “suboptimal healthcare systems, socio-economic factors and disparities in education, literacy and urbanisation”, all of which affect public awareness and doctors’ ability to prescribe treatments in time. Some studies have also attributed hypertension in adults to environmental factors they experienced as children, such as exposure to lead, air pollution and even noise.

Clearly, tackling this particular problem once and for all will require a society-wide effort that spans ordinary citizens as well as policymakers. That means the battle ahead is a long one. But in the meantime, if the injection trials in the UK show good results, those who struggle with high blood pressure may find their lives become a little easier.

Published: April 28, 2022, 3:00 AM