Hypertension is a major health problem in the West, with around one in six Americans suffering from it. Despite its prevalence, not enough is known about its causes.
So an interesting piece of pure research - that is, research that's not trying to push a drug therapy - adds to the debate, and may give clues to some sufferers.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School suggest that hypertension may, in part at least, be an inflammatory disorder. It's an idea that's been floating around for a while, but nobody before had tested the hypothesis. So they analysed data collected from the 20,252 participants from the Women's Health Study, and studied the blood samples before and after hypertension was diagnosed. In total, 5,365 women went on to develop hypertension. The marker they were looking for in blood samples was the C-reactive protein.
The protein is a symptom of inflammation linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, and a significant percentage of the hypertension group had high levels of C-reactive protein in their blood.
Tantalizingly, they don't give any suggestions as to the cause of the inflammation in the first place, but cause never has been medicine's strong suit.
(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003; 290: 2945-51).