Despite progress in recent years in the prevention, detection, and treatment of high blood pressure (BP), hypertension remains an important public health challenge. Hypertension affects approximately 1 billion individuals worldwide. High BP is associated with an increased risk of mortality and morbidity from stroke, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, and end-stage renal disease; it also has a negative impact on the quality of life. Hypertension cannot be eliminated because there are no vaccines to prevent the development of hypertension, but, its incidence can be decreased by reducing the risk factors for its development, which include obesity, high dietary intake of fat and sodium and low intake of potassium, physical inactivity, smoking, and excessive alcohol intake. For established hypertension, efforts are to be directed to control BP by lifestyle modification (LSM). However, if BP cannot be adequately controlled with LSM, then pharmacotherapy can be instituted along with LSM. Normalization of BP reduces cardiovascular risk (for cardiovascular death, myocardial infarction, and cardiac arrest), provides renoprotection (prevention of the onset or slowing of proteinuria and progression of renal dysfunction to end-stage renal disease in patients with hypertension, diabetes mellitus types 1 and 2, and chronic renal disease), and decreases the risk of cerebrovascular events (stroke and cognition impairment), as has been amply demonstrated by a large number of randomized clinical trials.
In spite of the availability of more than 75 antihypertensive agents in 9 classes, BP control in the general population is at best inadequate. Therefore, antihypertensive therapy in the future or near future should be directed toward improving BP control in treated hypertensive patients with the available drugs by using the right combinations at optimum doses, individually tailored gene-polymorphism directed therapy, or development of new modalities such as gene therapy and vaccines.
Several studies have shown that BP can be reduced by lifestyle/behavior modification. Although, the reductions appear to be trivial, even small reductions in systolic BP (for example, 3-5 mm Hg) produce dramatic reduction in adverse cardiac events and stroke. On the basis of the results of clinical and clinical/observational studies, it has been recommended that more emphasis be placed on lifestyle/behavior modification (obesity, high dietary intake of fat and sodium, physical inactivity, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, low dietary potassium intake) to control BP and also to improve the efficacy of pharmacologic treatment of high BP.
New classes of antihypertensive drugs and new compounds in the established drug classes are likely to widen the armamentarium available to combat hypertension. These include the aldosterone receptor blockers, vasodilator beta-blockers, renin inhibitors, endothelin receptor antagonists, and dual endopeptidase inhibitors. The use of fixed-dose combination drug therapy is likely to increase.
There is a conceptual possibility that gene therapy may yield long-lasting antihypertensive effects by influencing the genes associated with hypertension. But, the treatment of human essential hypertension requires sustained over-expression of genes. Some of the challenging tasks for successful gene therapy that need to be mastered include identification of target genes, ideal gene transfer vector, precise delivery of genes into the required site (target), efficient transfer of genes into the cells of the target, and prompt assessment of gene expression over time. Targeting the RAS by antisense gene therapy appears to be a viable strategy for the long-term control of hypertension. Several problems that are encountered in the delivery of gene therapy include 1) low efficiency for gene transfer into vascular cells; 2) a lack of selectivity; 3) problem in determining how to prolong and control transgene expression or antisense inhibition; and 4) difficulty in minimizing the adverse effects of viral or nonviral vectors. In spite of the hurdles that face gene therapy administration in humans, studies in animals indicate that gene therapy may be feasible in treating human hypertension, albeit not in the near future.
DNA testing for genetic polymorphism and determining the genotype of a patient may predict response to a certain class of antihypertensive agent and thus optimize therapy in individual patients. In this regard, there are some studies that report the effectiveness of antihypertensive therapy based upon the genotype of selected patients. Treatment of human hypertension with vaccines is feasible but is not likely to be available in the near future.