New CT Scan Detects Most Common Cause of High Blood Pressure

Ten-minute computerized tomography (CT) scan helps to detect tiny nodules in a hormonal gland and cure high blood pressure by removing them.

Research led by doctors at Queen Mary University of London and Barts Hospital and Cambridge University Hospital was published in Nature Medicine.

The study included 128 participants whose hypertension, or high blood pressure, was caused by a steroid hormone, aldosterone.

The new CT scan found that in two-thirds of patients, aldosterone secretion comes from a benign nodule in one of the adrenal glands, which can then be safely removed.

The scan uses a very short-acting dose of metomidate, a radioactive dye that sticks only to the aldosterone-producing nodule.

These aldosterone-producing nodules are very small and easily overlooked on a regular CT scan, says professor Morris Brown, co-senior author of the study and professor of endocrine hypertension at Queen Mary University of London.

“When they glow for a few minutes after our injection, they are revealed as the obvious cause of hypertension, which can often then be cured. Until now, 99% are never diagnosed because of the difficulty and unavailability of tests. Hopefully, this is about to change,” he adds.

Aldosterone helps to regulate blood pressure by managing the levels of sodium (salt) and potassium in the blood. The increase in sodium in the bloodstream causes water retention, and this increases blood volume and blood pressure.

Aldosteronism is the most common cause of hypertension, accounting for 5–14% of all cases. The condition also causes 20–25% of treatment-resistant hypertension cases.

The study authors say that until now, the catheter test could not predict which patients would be completely cured of hypertension by surgical removal of the gland.

Half of Americans suffer from hypertension

Hypertension is defined as a systolic blood pressure greater than 130 mmHg or a diastolic blood pressure greater than 80 mmHg.

Nearly half of the adults in the U.S. have hypertension or are taking medication for the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most people with hypertension have no symptoms, but some may develop headaches, shortness of breath, and nosebleeds.

The risk of high blood pressure increases with age, and the condition is more common among Black, obese or overweight people, and those with a family history of hypertension.

Lifestyle choices, such as lack of exercise, tobacco use or vaping, and consuming too much salt or alcohol, also increase hypertension risk.

Certain chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea, as well as pregnancy, can lead to hypertension.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure may have severe complications, including heart attack or stroke, heart failure, and kidney problems.

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