By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and a problem for millions of Americans. Now, scientists have found a genetic link.

February 1 is the beginning of heart month — and this genetic discovery could help doctors identify patients who are at-risk for high blood pressure.

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Paul Bowers-Isaacson didn’t know he had high blood pressure until he suffered a heart attack. Now, scientists in London have made a discovery that could help patients like Paul.

A team of researchers studied 150,000 patients and found 107 new gene “regions” associated with high blood pressure.

“These 107 new gene regions may help us to tailor and select treatment in the future, but also, they identify the possibilities of us bring new treatments to bear from existing therapies,” said Mark Caulfield, lead author at Queen Mary University in London.

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Researchers say their findings may help predict who will eventually develop hypertension.

Paul says he hopes the new research will identify others at-risk – so they don’t go through what he did.

“Had I had a blood test and the doctor had actually said, ‘look, you’ve got this and this and this and this, and we know what the effect of that is’, I’d probably do as I was told,” he said.

In the years since his heart attack, Paul has made big lifestyle changes: eating healthier, losing weight and exercising to prevent further heart damage.

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High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects about one-in-three Americans and is a leading risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and death worldwide. And there are often no symptoms. So that’s why it’s important to know your numbers.

Stephanie Stahl