Is that high blood pressure actually Conn’s Syndrome?

Jun Yang and Elise Forbes - endocrine hypertension clinic
Dr Jun Yang and specialist endocrine nurse, Ms Elise Forbes who will staff the clinic.

Melbourne’s first dedicated Endocrine Hypertension Clinic is opening its doors at Monash Health on July 21 to improve treatment of a common yet underdiagnosed cause of high blood pressure.

Hudson Institute of Medical Research’s Centre for Endocrinology and Metabolism (CEM) clinician-researchers, Professor Peter Fuller, Dr Jun Yang and Dr Jimmy Shen, are behind the new clinic, which will treat patients with primary aldosteronism, also known as Conn’s Syndrome, the most common and potentially curable hormonal cause of high blood pressure.

For the one in three Australians with high blood pressure, a visit to the GP will provide an effective treatment plan using medications. However, in about 5 – 10 per cent of cases, the underlying cause of high blood pressure is Conn’s Syndrome which needs a completely different treatment plan.

Worryingly, Conn’s Syndrome also causes more injury to the heart and blood vessels than high blood pressure alone, so early diagnosis is important.

“General practitioners may not consider Conn’s Syndrome when they make a diagnosis of high blood pressure, because it has traditionally been thought of as a rare disorder,” said Dr Yang.

Knowing this, Dr Yang saw an urgent unmet need to increase awareness of Conn’s Syndrome with GPs and the community.

“If patients are not diagnosed correctly, they miss out on effective treatment and end up taking unnecessary medications,” she explained.

“We want to diagnose patients with Conn’s syndrome as early as possible so patients can be cured of the condition or given targeted treatment instead of wasting years taking ineffective pills and suffering from preventable heart damage.”

Recognising the need to improve diagnosis of Conn’s Syndrome, Dr Yang and her team initially examined how the syndrome was being diagnosed at Monash Health.

They discovered that detection rates improved after a specific diagnostic protocol was adopted and one dedicated radiologist was responsible for performing the key diagnostic test. Partly, this is because Conn’s Syndrome testing can be technically challenging and needs to be carefully controlled.

Having improved the way Conn’s Syndrome is diagnosed at Monash Health, Dr Yang then established the new Endocrine Hypertension Clinic to streamline diagnosis and improve patient care.

“Proper diagnosis will allow these patients to access effective treatment and management strategies. My father is the perfect example. Prior to his Conn’s Syndrome diagnosis he took four drugs that had a minimal impact. Now he is on one drug that is effectively managing this blood pressure.”

To maximise the ongoing impact of the clinic, a research arm will be developed integrating clinical practice with molecular research.

This builds upon the internationally renowned work of Dr Morag Young, Head of the Cardiovascular Endocrinology Laboratory at Hudson’s CEM, who has contributed to our understanding of what causes excessive heart injury in Conn’s Syndrome.

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