Scientists have identified over 500 new gene regions that influence people's blood pressure -- a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease.
While lifestyle risk factors are relatively well-known and include obesity, smoking, alcohol, and high salt intake, high blood pressure is also highly heritable through genetics.
The study, led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), analysed the DNA of more than one million people, and the results more than triple the number of genetic regions linked to blood pressure to over 1,000.
The findings, published in Nature Genetics, suggested that all of the genetic variants raise a person's risk of high blood pressure by 3.34 times.
They also make an individual 1.52 times more likely to suffer a related complication, such as a heart attack or stroke.
Some of the newly-discovered gene regions are also involved in other diseases and could, therefore, be treated with existing drugs.
"With this information, we could calculate a person's genetic risk score for high blood pressure in later life," said Mark Caulfield, Professor at the QMUL.
"Taking a precision medicine approach, doctors could target early lifestyle interventions to those with a high genetic risk, such as losing weight, reducing alcohol consumption and increasing exercise," he added.
The study also reports a strong role of these genes, not only in blood vessels, but also within the adrenal glands above the kidney, and in body fat.
"Knowing which genes cause high blood pressure may help us to spot the people who are at risk before the damage is done. Those at risk can be treated - either with medication or lifestyle changes - potentially preventing thousands of heart attacks and strokes every year," said Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation.