The innovative new ways scientists are tackling high blood pressure

Drug discord

Hypertension specialist Dr Walter van der Merwe has a lot of beefs about the best way New Zealand offers with hypertension. He says the situation doesn’t get the eye it deserves, and we don’t have the proper mixtures of medication to deal with it.

“You don’t hear about blood pressure much these days. People talk about cardiovascular risk, cholesterol and statins, but high blood pressure doesn’t get very much profile. You don’t see public-health posters saying, ‘Have you had your blood pressure checked?’”

Control of the situation right here is poor, says van der Merwe. The mostly prescribed drug for hypertension is the angiotensin changing enzyme (ACE) inhibitor cilazapril mixed with a diuretic, hydrochlorothiazide. Last yr, practically 67,000 individuals took the drug. ACE inhibitors calm down and dilate the blood vessels, making it simpler for blood to circulate by means of. Imagine your blood circulation as a backyard hose. We’ve all put our thumb over the tip to create extra resistance, growing the pressure and pushing the water additional – however the quantity of water popping out is lots much less once we apply our thumb. Diuretics enhance urination to eliminate further water and salt so there’s much less fluid quantity and decrease pressure in your blood vessels – like a faucet that’s not absolutely turned on.

The drawback in New Zealand, says van der Merwe, is that the cilazapril-hydrochlorothiazide mixture has solely 12.5mg of the diuretic, and that’s too little to be efficient. Randomised managed trials internationally have discovered that it’s no higher than cilazapril alone and the mix shouldn’t be generally used elsewhere. Overseas, hypertension poly-pills comprise as much as 25mg of the diuretic. “It dates back to whenever Pharmac was first negotiating a package to get an ACE inhibitor, and New Zealand just got stuck with this,” says van der Merwe.

Dr Walter van der Merwe. Photo/Donna Chisholm/Listener

When sufferers’ blood pressure shouldn’t be nicely managed with that mixture, they usually find yourself on two, three or 4 tablets, when the perfect answer can be a mix capsule with double the dose of the diuretic, which isn’t accessible right here. Also not accessible right here are amiloride tablets. Amiloride is a potassium-sparing diuretic, however Pharmac funds the tablets solely in distinctive circumstances, forcing sufferers to take the one various, a fluid that is available in 25ml bottles. “If you’re prescribed 10ml a day, you end up with all these bottles in your fridge, and if you’re going overseas it’s a nightmare,” says van der Merwe. He has put in quite a few exceptional-circumstances functions, which have all been declined. Pharmac has mentioned it’s unable to discover a dependable provider of the tablets, “but that’s just nonsense”.

Phamac informed the Listener its sole provider discontinued the product final yr and it was looking for various suppliers. It didn’t reply questions in regards to the energy of the diuretic utilized in mixture with cilazapril, however mentioned the company funded 40 totally different medicine for hypertension and “does not mandate which medicines are used for which patients under which clinical circumstances. This is a matter for prescribers, with due diligence and professionalism as health professionals.”

Van der Merwe takes challenge with the advisable method of whole cardiovascular threat when docs assess the necessity for a affected person to start out anti-hypertension remedy. For instance, a 50-year-old girl with a blood pressure of 158/95 wouldn’t be handled beneath present tips if she had no different threat elements, reminiscent of being a diabetic, smoker or having high ldl cholesterol. The advisable degree at which remedy of hypertension ought to start no matter whole cardiovascular threat is repeated measurements within the physician’s workplace of 160/100. “Her five-year risk of a heart attack or stroke is just 1.7%, and if the risk is under 5%, the benefits of treatment are said to be outweighed by the possible risk.” But van der Merwe says a five-year threat is meaningless. “A 50-year-old woman now wants and expects to live to her eighties or nineties and to be fit and healthy for all that time. With that blood pressure, her lifetime risk is 50%, and that’s what we should be looking at.” He says the long-term impact of even reasonably raised blood pressure may be extreme.

Hugh Boyd. Photo/Supplied

The stakes are high

That’s one thing Auckland car-rental reservation agent and part-time actor and singer Hugh Boyd has found to his price. Boyd, 67, had hypertension for about eight years earlier than he lastly agreed to start out taking medicine in 2015. “The doctor would talk to me about it and monitor it and say we should do something about it and I sometimes tried to ignore it. But it’s not until you realise it’s a silent killer that you do anything. I didn’t want to go on pills – you read about the side effects and I’d had an allergy reaction to other drugs before. But I don’t think I really understood at the start what [hypertension] can do to you.”

In January final yr, Boyd was admitted to North Shore Hospital with unstable angina and ended up getting two stents in his coronary arteries. “Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have delayed.” He’s now on 5 medicine – a statin, aspirin, an ACE inhibitor, a calcium channel blocker and a diuretic – and has needed to change two drugs once they induced gout and breast swelling.

Van der Merwe believes high blood pressure is “unquestionably” the largest cardiovascular threat. “It’s all about long-term vascular damage and vascular remodelling and I don’t like the idea that you might wait before starting treatment. The younger you are, the higher the stakes. A lot of people in New Zealand start treatment only once they’ve had a heart attack or stroke, which is putting the cart before the horse. These conditions are preventable if they’re treated in a timely way.”

No distractions

Ann Bain tries to not let her blood pressure stress her out. Towards the tip of our interview, she takes her studying once more and it’s dropped to 161/98 – nonetheless too high.

Van der Merwe says to get correct readings on dwelling screens it’s necessary for sufferers to be on their very own in a quiet room, have their arm comfortably supported, with ft on the bottom and legs uncrossed. There ought to be no distractions – not even a tv, pets or youngsters. “Just being with someone and talking will push your blood pressure up.”

Bain says though van der Merwe, her specialist, has informed her to name him if her studying goes over 170, she doesn’t. “You can’t call him at 2am and say ‘Walter, my blood pressure is 200/100.’” She says a 24-hour ambulatory monitor discovered her blood pressure really went up when she is asleep.“It should be 130, but it’s very rarely that. It’s all over the place. And I just don’t know why.”

*Volunteers enthusiastic about collaborating within the Auckland research, which is predicted to start out recruiting later this yr, can e-mail James Fisher at for extra data. The investigators shall be looking for individuals with high blood pressure (affected person group) or regular blood pressure (management group), and with no different identified well being issues.

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