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As a result, excessive aldosterone is produced, which causes salt to be retained in the body, thereby driving up blood pressure readings. These patients are typically treatment resistant to hypertension medication, but a “cure” is now possible. A new 10-minute CT scan can light up tiny nodules in a hormone gland, enabling medical practitioners to identify and remove them.
The new scan – created by Queen Mary University of London (QMU), Barts Hospital and Cambridge University Hospital – is accurate, fast, and painless.
Morris Brown, professor of endocrine hypertension at QMU and co-senior author of the study, commented on the technological advancement.
“These aldosterone-producing nodules are very small and easily overlooked on a regular CT scan,” he said.
“When they glow for a few minutes after our injection, they are revealed as the obvious cause of hypertension, which can often then be cured.
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“Until now, 99 percent are never diagnosed because of the difficulty and unavailability of tests. Hopefully this is about to change.”
For the research, doctors gave 128 patients, all of whom had hypertension caused by steroid hormone aldosterone, the new scan.
In two-thirds of patients, the scans revealed high levels of aldosterone were being secreted from a benign nodule in one of the adrenal glands.
Nodules can be removed using a very short-acting dose of radioactive metomidate, which sticks only to the aldosterone-producing nodule.
QMU professor of clinical endocrinology, William Drake, said: “This study was the result of years of hard work and collaboration between centres across the UK.”
In the journal Nature Medicine, Professor Drake noted: “The future of research in this area is in very safe hands.”
Dr Judith Marcin verified the adrenal glands are tasked with producing aldosterone that “plays an active role in your blood pressure”.
The adrenal glands maintain the balance of sodium, potassium, and water in the blood.
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“Hyperaldosteronism is an endocrine disorder that involves one or both of your adrenal glands creating too much of a hormone called aldosterone,” Dr Marcin confirmed.
The main sign of hyperaldosteronism is high blood pressure, which may be accompanied by:
The other main symptom of hyperaldosteronism is hypokalemia, which refers to low potassium levels in the blood.
Hypokalemia can lead to: fatigue, muscle cramps, increased thirst and urination, muscle weakness, and palpitations.
If you are concerned that you may have hyperaldosteronism, your first point of call should be your doctor.
A simple blood test can check for levels of aldosterone and renin, Dr Marcin assured.
The latter, renin, is an enzyme the kidney release that works alongside aldosterone to help balance blood pressure.
People with hyperaldosteronism generally have low renin levels and high aldosterone levels.
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