A new study, performed by at the University of Oxford, has found that adults living with high blood pressure in the long-term are at an increased risk for developing aortic valve disease (AVD). The condition occurs when the valve that controls the pumping of blood from the left ventricle in the heart into the aorta stops functioning properly.
There are two types of aortic valve disease: aortic stenosis (AS) and aortic regurgitation (AR). AS occurs when the valve between the left ventricle and the aorta becomes hardened by calcium deposits, narrowing the opening and making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood into the system of blood vessels. AR is caused by the failure of the valve to close all the way, allowing some blood to seep back into the left ventricle.
Participants in the study were 5.4 million adults from the United Kingdom, aged between 30 and 90. The data was collected from the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink, which had gathered medical records between 1990 and 2015. The records were anonymized and none of the participants were known to have any heart or blood vessel diseases at the outset of the research. Participants provided up to seven different measurements of blood pressure, making the results that much more accurate than if they had only been measured a single time.
Long-Term Hypertension Doubles Risk of AVD
Of all the participants, at the end of the study’s average follow-up period of nine years, 20,680 participants had been diagnosed with AS and 6,440 were diagnosed with AR. The analysis showed that after a systolic blood pressure measurement of 115mmHg, each 20mmHg of additional blood pressure increased the risk of developing AS by 41 percent and AR by 38 percent.
When compared to the control group of participants, who had a blood pressure measurement of 120mmHg or lower, those who consistently had a measurement of 161mmHg or higher had twice the risk of developing AS and were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with AR by the next follow up with the researchers.
“The study shows that serious valvular heart diseases that are common at old age are not simply due to aging. Long-term exposure to higher blood pressure is a strong and potentially modifiable risk factor for aortic stenosis and regurgitation at every level of typical blood pressure, not only in those who are classified as having hypertension. Blood pressure should be considered as a major risk factor for aortic valve disease, much in the same way as we think of elevated blood pressure as a risk factor for atherosclerotic disease. The study suggests that the associations are causal, but this requires further confirmation,” said the study’s lead author, Kazem Rahimi, in conclusion to the study.
The study authors believe that a way to prevent AS and AR from developing later in life is to maintain blood pressure levels at a measurement lower than 140/90mmHg, which is the current threshold for a hypertension diagnosis.
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