Adults who suffer from high blood pressure may have been born that way, according to recent research in Britain and the United States.
This claim is made in a British report on the first detailed study ever made on the blood pressure of babies, covering the period from birth to when the babies were five to seven weeks old.
The report, published in the British Medical Journal, said the significant feature was that infants with relatively high blood pressure at four to six days showed the same tendency at five to seven weeks.
The report said, “if this trend continues with age, it would suggest that the tendency to develop hypertension may already be demonstrable at the age of four to six days.”
The importance of this investigation is enormous. Elevated blood pressure, called “hypertension” by doctors, is one of the known factors in premature heart disease.
Now it appears that this possibility may be set from the moment of birth.
The research has been carried out by doctors M. de Swift, P. Fayers, and E. A. Shinebourne at London’s Brompton Hospital.
Some 469 babies in the four to six-day age group were selected and their blood pressures taken by a special device called the Doppler ultrasound technique. Nurses recorded the pressure of both babies and mothers to see if there was any connection.
All babies born at the hospital during a certain period were included in the study.
It was not possible to locate all the 469 babies originally tested but 391 were tracked down, and a second pressure recorded.
The British report followed a large survey carried out in the United States under the guidance of Dr. Edward H. Kass, who headed a team from the Harvard Medical School. The Harvard study paid more attention to children who were a little older.
“At six months of age, there is a correlation between the blood pressure of the baby, and that of his mother and other first-order relatives.” Dr. Kass reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
This suggests a hereditary factor which affects blood pressure, and that this may be present right from birth.
Dr. Kass and his co-workers checked on the blood pressure readings of 721 children coming from 190 homes. They also used a special blood pressure recording instrument aimed at reducing errors. The age of the children varied between two and 14 years. Results showed that elevated blood pressure tends to run in families. However, more significant were readings taken on many of these children six years later.
Dr. Kass said, “it was reasonable to assume that those children with higher pressure are destined to be the ones who will emerge in adulthood with a higher pressure.”
The American Journal said. “This is additional confirmation of the fact that people tend to maintain the same blood pressure throughout their lives with respect to the other individuals of the same age and sex.”
So an imposing body of information, new to the medi-scene, is now being pieced together from various parts of the world. The most significant findings from Britain, which give readings from a few days of age which takes it a few steps further, all suggest the same thing, blood pressure often seems to start from birth, and the tendency once established, appears to be maintained from that point on.
Kass is now going on to the next obvious step. He too is now investigating the blood pressure of infants in the first days of life. But he is also checking on a variety of possible causes.
“Under scrutiny are the effects of diet, psychological factors, heredity, diseases that might affect the blood pressure, such as urinary tract and certain viral diseases, and other environmental influences.” the Journal of American Medical Association said.
“High blood pressure is a complicated disease. It involves both family and environmental factors,” Dr. Kass said. “We must find out which are the most important. If the environment plays a larger part, some of its effects might be open to control.”
The next step is how should these children be treated. Dr. Kass is considering giving small amounts of diuretics to children with elevated pressure. This is now the method used by many doctors for treating blood pressure.
Another American named Dr. Biron who is interested in the same field recently treated 10 children aged eight to 17 years with the beta-blocker drug propranolol. This was followed by a reduction in elevated pressures by 25mm, a significant effect.
“The children all said they felt better while on this treatment, and there were no side effects.” Dr. Biron reported.
“However, it is open to question whether these children should be treated with such a drug for 10-20 years, with eventual possible toxic effects, or whether they should be followed closely,” he said.