NCMA cardiologist Dr. Noel Santo Domino discusses the latest findings pointing to a clear link between high blood pressure and a life-threatening condition that may be preventable in some cases.
A new study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, detailed the heart history of 5.5 million adults over 10 years. Researchers discovered that those who were diagnosed with higher blood pressure in early life have a significantly greater risk of developing mitral regurgitation later in life. Mitral regurgitation is a condition which makes the heart less efficient at pumping blood throughout the body and can lead to heart failure in severe cases.
Mitral regurgitation is a term that describes a medical situation where blood backflows into the heart resulting in symptoms such as shortness of breath, tiredness, dizziness and chest pain. “It is generally more common in older adults and can lead to death,” explains Dr. Noel Santo Domingo, MD NCMA cardiologist.
The crux of this study indicates that mitral regurgitation may in fact, be preventable in patients who are diagnosed early with high blood pressure. “If this is the case, then as cardiologists it becomes our task to encourage those patients that are presenting with high blood pressure to take measures to adopt healthier lifestyle habits – thereby greatly reducing the chance that they will ever develop this deadly and debilitating disease.”
The deadly consequences of mitral valve regurgitation
Mitral valve regurgitation often progresses slowly and is accompanied in the early stages by very mild symptoms. A patient may have no symptoms for years, even decades. Depending on how advanced the disease is when diagnosed, signs and symptoms of mitral valve regurgitation can include:
- Heart murmur
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea), especially with exertion or when at rest
- Fatigue, especially during times of increased activity
- Heart palpitations (experienced as rapid, fluttering heartbeat)
- Swollen feet or ankles
A diagnosis of mitral valve regurgitation sometimes happens only after a doctor discovers a heart murmur. In other patients the problem develops quickly and in these cases, the patient may experience a sudden onset and exhibit severe signs and symptoms. In the medical community, mitral regurgitation has been largely considered a degenerative disorder, viewed as resulting from a weakening of the valve over time due to ‘wear and tear’. When viewed as a degenerative disorder doctors generally focus on treatment such as surgery to repair or replace the valve — rather than prevention.
“This new study is exciting and provides hope for many of our patients,” said Dr. Santo Domingo. “It also suggests additional research is needed to determine whether lowering blood pressure — through exercise, diet or blood pressure-lowering drugs – will in fact reduce the risk of the disorder occurring. In the meantime, advising patients who already exhibit signs of high blood pressure to take measures to improve their health will only lead to better outcomes in the long run.”
The deadly ramifications of HBP
High blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) is often called the “silent killer” in that symptoms are very subtle and not always detectible in an otherwise healthy person. In this way it quietly damages blood vessels and leads to chronic health conditions. While there is no absolute cure, medications prescribed by a cardiologist can help, and choosing to pursue healthier lifestyle changes can not only enhance quality of life, it will help to reduce the overall risk of developing heart disease and related symptoms such as stroke, kidney disease and more.
The American Heart Association recommends taking these steps to manage high blood pressure naturally:
- Eat a well-balanced, low-salt diet
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Adopt a routine that includes regular physical activity
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Take prescription medications properly
- Monitor your heart health and know your blood pressure
The best way to find out if a person’s blood pressure is in a healthy or unhealthy range is to get it checked.
About the NCMA Cardiology Team
From cardiac catheterization to open-heart surgery, from electrophysiology to rehabilitation and prevention, the Northern California Medical Associates (NCMA) Cardiovascular Services team is dedicated to delivering the highest quality care and the best patient results. The NCMA Cardiology staff not only maintains its commitment to patients’ health and well-being but also maintains a tradition of excellence and expertise in its practice of the most current, innovative treatments in cardiovascular medicine. To learn more, visit the cardiology section of the NCMA website.