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The University of Southampton

Study links fetal development and high blood pressure in older adults

Published: 20 May 2009

High blood pressure in later life may be influenced during development in the womb, new research suggests.

Studies of elderly people found those with high blood pressure were more likely to have high levels of aldosterone, a hormone linked to blood pressure control, regardless of lifestyle factors such as diet and obesity.

Researchers from the Universities of Southampton, Edinburgh and Glasgow also found that aldosterone levels were higher in those with low birth weights, which also predicts high blood pressure in later life. The findings suggest that the body’s system for regulating the hormone and blood pressure levels is established in the womb.

Dr Elaine Dennison and Professor David Phillips of the University of Southampton were involved in the study. Dr Dennison said: “This research highlights the importance of the early environment on the risk of high blood pressure in later life. It suggests that early life experience might be added to better known risk factors for high blood pressure such as stress, diet and obesity.”

The study involved more than 300 men and women born in Hertfordshire between 1920 and 1930 whose birth weights had been recorded. Blood samples were taken and tests carried out to analyse levels of aldosterone and how it was regulated. The findings also support the use of treatments for high blood pressure targeted at altering levels of aldosterone.

Funding for the study came from the Wellcome Trust and the British Heart Foundation.

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