A strong link has been for the first time established between high blood pressure and the most common heart valve disorder known as mitral regurgitation, a new study said Tuesday.
The findings, published in the U.S. journal PLOS Medicine, showed that the valve disorder, which is increasingly diagnosed worldwide, particularly among older people, is not an inevitable consequence of aging, as previously assumed, but may be preventable.
"Given the large and growing burden of mitral valve disease, particularly among older people, we believe these findings are likely to have significant implications for medical policy and practice around the world," lead author Kazem Rahimi, professor and deputy director of the University of Oxford's George Institute for Global Health, said in a statement.
Mitral regurgitation can lead 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.
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.
In the new study, researchers used electronic health records to followed 5.5 million adults in Britain over 10 years.
It found that higher blood pressure in early life was associated with a significantly greater future risk of mitral regurgitation.
According to the researchers, 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.
"With worldwide aging and population growth, we are likely to see an increasing number of cases of this condition," said Rahimi.
"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."