Hypertension and Pit Vipers

Yesterday I read a fascinating (to me, anyway) article about the history of the development of drugs to treat hypertension (high blood pressure).  The topic is interesting to me because a couple of months ago, my blood pressure inexplicably went from “Too high” to “Be prepared to die”.  For just over a month now, I’ve been seeing the doctor often, sometimes as often as twice a week.  He added a medication to the one I was already taking, desperately trying to get the BP back down.  As of the last visit two weeks ago, it’s back down to “Too high”.  We still aren’t finished experimenting–he may add a third drug, or a combination of a different two drugs.  The silver lining to this is twofold:  first, he’s very positive and says it CAN be done.  Second, he’s paying attention, which is an increasingly hard quality to find in a doctor. 

So with my own personal troubles, it’s no wonder I was interested in an article in the New York Times that came out on Thanksgiving Day, called The Evidence Gap:  A Big Hypertension Study and Its Minimal Impact.  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/28/business/28govtest.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp The study in question purportedly showed that the very cheapest (and first discovered) drugs to treat hypertension–namely, diuretics–were as good or better than some of the more recent, more expensive, and seriously hyped-by-the-drug-companies drugs.  So in one corner you have a government study whose noble goal is to save people money, and in the other corner you have the greedy drug companies with millions of dollars at their disposal to influence doctors and advertise to the general public.  Not so fast.  Money and politics influenced the outcome, according to people on both sides.  (Surprise!)  Everybody had an agenda.  And perhaps out of character, I’m on the side of the drug companies on this one.  Diuretics alone may do a lot of good for a large number of people, especially in the case of people who don’t have insurance, but they’re going to leave a lot of people in the dust–as the government absolutely has to know.  The newer drugs have many additional benefits, but the issue here for the government, in my opinion, was more about allocation of resources, not about saving individual lives.  No wonder this article was in the Business section rather than the Health section. 

So I decided to do a little more research and found this truly fascinating article (The NYT article does not qualify as “fascinating”).  http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/full/18/3/421e  This article talks about the history of the development of drugs to treat hypertension and among the many interesting factoids:  There were no treatments for hypertension until the 1950’s.  As I mentioned earlier, diuretics were the first.  Then came ACE inhibitors.  The process of developing ACE inhibitors began when someone discovered that Brazilian pit viper bites were killing workers in the banana groves of South America by causing a drastic drop in blood pressure.  Someone said, Hmmm…maybe we can use this to our advantage. 

It seems the discovery of new drugs is often like this.  It happens by accident, sort of.  After the discovery of the effect, researchers then have to figure out the how.  Then figure out how to make it into a drug.  In its experimental stage, scientists were injecting people with pit viper venom.  These days, ACE inhibitors are made synthetically, which, sadly, means that a lot of Brazilian pit vipers will now live long and healthy lives.


5 responses to “Hypertension and Pit Vipers

  1. Have a bit of pity for the pit vipers, even though they are no longer sought for a life of leisure paid for by an unseemly milking of their venom glands, they surely contend with habitat loss as the Brazilian population moves into what was once their home. And we all know what happens when a technological society moves into aboriginal homelands …

  2. I wish I was a pharmacist… You’d make me rich!

  3. Yes, Fakesister, I do–they get bitten by pit vipers, lol!
    Nick, you don’t want to be a pharmacist–you want to be the CEO of a drug company! Just think of the bonuses! (Notice the gov’t isn’t having to bail THEM out.)

  4. I think your high blood pressure was caused by all the TDO trolls! They sure raised mine. I was at pre-hypertension and my doc said he wanted to see if it’d come down by itself.

    Well, the last reading looked good. I’ve been walking, staying off the daily pickle, etc. The “official” readin is Thursday, but even if it’s still a bit high, I plan to seek and extension to at least march. i don’t like taking any medicine, especially if it’s for life.

    i know the day is coming when I’ll be taking a fistful of pills day, but I’m gonna delay that as long as possible. By then, The Singularity (remember that post?) will be here and maybe nanotechnology will take care of a lot of problems…!

  5. “i know the day is coming when I’ll be taking a fistful of pills day”

    You know what the worst part is? Staying organized around the damn meds and suppliments. Mine start with allergies which started at age 50. Then high BP then high cholesterol. Shit what a pain in the ass it all is.

    But Tuesday it was all woth it for a brief shiney moment in time my BP was 123/78 and bad cholesterol was 100 which is my goal, good is 39 with a goal of 50 so need to work on that.


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