What we know

Blood pressure is a measure of the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body (NHS website).

1 in 4 adults in the UK have high blood pressure, many of whom won’t even realise it. However, without treatment, high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) can increase your risk of serious health problems such as heart attacks and strokes.

Just 30 years ago, a group of American scientists discovered that nitric oxide has a key role in the way the body regulates blood pressure. Nitric oxide is a gas produced naturally by the body and carried in the blood. It expands blood vessels in order to increase blood flow, which in turn reduces blood pressure.

  • £2 billion – the amount that high blood pressure costs the NHS per year.

  • 16 million adults in the UK have high blood pressure in the UK, or one in four

  • 12% of all visits to GPs in England are for high blood pressure.

What we did

A team of researchers at King’s College London, treated healthy subjects with a drug that stopped an enzyme in the nervous system from producing nitric oxide.

The team found that a reduction in nitric oxide in the nervous system led to a significant increase in both blood pressure and vascular resistance (the force that opposes blood flow). By demonstrating this, they were able to establish the vital importance of nitric oxide from nerves in the regulation of healthy blood pressure.


How this will change care

“Our discovery will fundamentally change the way we view the regulation of blood pressure, provide a new target for drugs, and could eventually lead to more effective treatments for patients.”

Professor Ajay Shah, British Heart Foundation Chair of Cardiology at King’s College London and lead on the trial.

About the study

The study was supported by the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre.

Further information

The study was supported by funds from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.

Read the journal article: bit.ly/hypertensionBRC