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Title: Determining the causal role of malaria in elevating blood pressure and pulse wave velocity in Kenyan adolescents and adults
Author: Etyang, A. O.
ISNI:       0000 0004 6497 2677
Awarding Body: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Current Institution: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (University of London)
Date of Award: 2018
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Introduction: High blood pressure is recognized as a leading risk factor for stroke and death in sub-Saharan Africa (sSA). While many studies have examined the role of established risk factors such as obesity and salt consumption, less is known about other factors, such as infection, that could be of particular importance in sSA. Ambulatory blood pressure measurement has emerged as the optimal method in recent years in Western settings, but there has been limited use to date in sSA. This work presents the results of a study investigating whether malaria, which is widespread in sSA could contribute to the development of high blood pressure using ambulatory measurements. Methods: Preliminary work involved determining the prevalence of hypertension in Kilifi, Kenya and examining the population-level effects of using ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM) for diagnosing hypertension. A literature review outlining the basis of the malaria-high blood pressure hypothesis and the Mendelian randomization method for testing the hypothesis was conducted. Sickle cell trait and alpha (+) thalassemia were chosen as instrumental variables to represent malaria exposure because they protect against malaria. Two studies were performed in Nairobi, Kenya among the same cohort to confirm that sickle-cell trait and alpha-thalassemia do not influence blood pressure in the absence of malaria and were therefore valid instrumental variables to test the malaria-high blood pressure hypothesis in Kilifi where there is malaria transmission. A Mendelian randomization study was then conducted in Kilifi, Kenya where 24-hour blood pressure and arterial 4 stiffness indices were compared in individuals with and without sickle cell trait and alpha thalassemia. Results: The prevalence of hypertension in Kilifi, a rural area, was found to be as high as in urban areas of Kenya despite the low frequency of classical risk factors such as obesity and excessive salt consumption. Use of ambulatory blood pressure monitoring for diagnosing hypertension was found to improve the accuracy of detection of high blood pressure. Neither Sickle-cell trait (SCT) nor alpha+ thalassemia influenced blood pressure or arterial stiffness indices among adolescents that had been lifelong residents of Nairobi, where there is no malaria transmission. Among individuals that had been lifelong residents of Kilifi, Kenya where there has been on-going malaria transmission, blood pressure was found to be lower among individuals with SCT, which protects against malaria episodes compared to those without SCT. The difference in BP by SCT status was larger in women than in men. There were no significant differences in arterial stiffness based on SCT status. Conclusion: This work suggests that malaria contributes to the burden of hypertension in sSA, and the control of malaria may lead to a reduction in blood pressure in this group. Future work should focus on confirming the findings using alternative study designs such as examining blood pressure in cohorts born before and after complete malaria elimination in parts of the world where this has been achieved. Subsequent work would involve delineating the pathophysiological mechanisms involved in malaria induced BP elevation with a view to generating new drugs to control hypertension.
Supervisor: Scott, J. A. ; Smeeth, L. ; Cruickshank, K. Sponsor: Wellcome Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral