Special Assignment: Detecting High Blood Pressure

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News 12 First at Five, April 21, 2008

AUGUSTA, Ga.----Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor. Researchers at the Medical College of Georgia believe they've found a way to predict who will get high blood pressure.

MCG researchers may have tapped into something that will set the tone for how the rest of the world treats high blood pressure.

Lamont Addison is 18 years old, and he is 1 of hundreds of young participants in what's being called the salt study. It is a groundbreaking look at the way salt and stress drive up blood pressure.

"I feel proud of myself for participating in something that would help other people," said Addison.

It's a local study, but the results could have a worldwide impact. Researchers believe they've found a way to determine if you are at risk for high blood pressure as early as age 15.

"Potentially, yes," said Martha Ryan who is a research manager.

And not only that, they say they have a way to treat it. "Well it only took 30 years," said Dr. Gregory Harshfield. Harshfield has devoted most of his life's work to studying high blood pressure.

"It's about stress...how stress leads to the development of hypertension," said Dr. Harshfield. But what is stress? "Stress is whatever you think it is," said Dr. Harshfield.

Even after the stresses of the day are over 1 out 3 African Americans still show a higher than normal blood pressure. "Some form of what we're doing will become a traditional laboratory test to determine what an effective treatment will be for this individual particularly in the African American community."

Researchers think it has something to do with a hormone called angio tensin 2. It triggers a flood of salt during stress and causes blood pressure to increase. It then takes a lot longer than normal to go down.

"It's always scary cause you always think you're wrong," said Dr. Harshfield.

But it looks as if the doctor may be on to something. Early studies show that the key is to block the hormone. Blocking the hormone stops the flow of salt and lowers the blood pressure. This is a major breakthrough that comes with the help of young people.

"I mean I was doing it for the money, and I got to eat," said Lamont.

"They measure your salt in-take over 3 days...no more than 4,000 mg per day.

The study begins with a 45 minute round on PlayStation just to see how your body handles stress. Will it get rid of salt or hold on to it?

"I think ultimately you could do something as simple as you get a urine sample....before they see the doctor... get a urine sample afterwards, cause the stresses of a doctor's visit will identify whether they're gonna hold on to salt or not," said Dr. Harshfield.

Those who do hold on to salt are candidates for high blood pressure.

"If we can take the treatment if we can do that...you're not gonna have a stroke early, you're not gonna have a heart attack early, you're not gonna have kidney disease early," said Dr. Harshfield.

These are facts that take on a whole new meaning for people like Lamont. High blood pressure and heart disease runs in his family. A heart attack killed his great-grandmother.

"If I could have did it before she died then I probably would have did it for free...cause you know she probably would have stayed a little bit longer," said Lamont.

It's now just a matter of making believers of other doctors. Dr. Harshfield and his staff are already convinced. "We're pretty sure. We wrote a grant. We want to study it."

How does $10 million sound? That's what Dr. Harshfield and his team will get to do just that...study. "It would save a lot of time...and a lot of lives," said Martha.

"Most people if they can do one thing in their lifetime that has that impact that's pretty exciting," said Dr. Harshfield.

The group is calling 240 young people back to test the treatment. Lamont is possibly in that group. He was one of those people who hold on to salt.

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