London: Scientists claim to have discovered at least 22 genetic variants linked to high blood pressure, a finding which could pave the way for better treatments for the condition that raises risk of stroke and heart attack.
   
High blood pressure or hypertension can run in families as well as being influenced by obesity, exercise and the amount of salt in the diet. While the lifestyle risks are known, genetic element of hypertension was poorly understood.
   
Now, an international team, which carried out studies worldwide to identify the genetic links, says almost everyone will carry at least one of the 20 sections of the genetic code, the 'Nature' and 'Nature Genetics' journals reported.
   
In the first study, the team analysed data from more than 200,000 people and identified 16 new points on the genome which were linked to blood pressure.
   
Lead scientist Prof Mark Caulfield from Barts and The London Medical School said each genetic variant was in at least five per cent of people, while some of the more common ones were present in up to 14 per cent of people.
   
"This is having an influence across the population," a news channel quoted him as saying.
   
Uncovering the genetic basis of blood pressure has revealed processes in the body which could one day be targeted with drugs. One series of chemical reactions involving nitric oxide, which opens up blood vessels, has been highlighted as a potential target, say the scientists.

Prof Caulfield said: "There is substantial potential for moving the findings from the lab to the clinic. There are, in development or in existence, drugs which could be considered."
   
However, the team says they have still uncovered only one per cent of the genetic contribution to blood pressure.
   
A second study identified a further six new stretches of genetic code.

The British Heart Foundation's medical director, Prof Peter Weissberg, said, "Researchers from across the world have now identified some of the genes linked to blood pressure control, which could pave the way for new treatments in the future.
   
"But your genes are only one piece of the puzzle. You are less likely to have high blood pressure if you stick to a healthy diet, do plenty of exercise, and maintain a healthy weight."

(Agencies)