CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Chronic high blood pressure affects one billion people worldwide. Research out of the University of Virginia School of Medicine indicates long-term use of drugs used to treat high blood pressure, including ACE inhibitors, could cause kidney damage.

Studies show renin cells are responsible for the damage. Harmful changes in renin cells cause them to invade the walls of the kidney's blood vessels. This then triggers a buildup of another cell type, called smooth muscle cells. This causes the vessels to thicken and stiffen, which in turn causes blood to not flow through the kidney as it should.

But doctors are advising patients not to stop taking their blood pressure medication. 

"Does this mean that people have to stop taking their medications? Absolutely not," said Dr. Ariel Gomez of UVA’s Department of Pediatrics and Child Health Research Center. "The medications that we use right now to treat blood pressure prevent strokes, heart disease, vascular disease, etcetera."

He says more studies are needed to better understand what causes the cells to constrict. This further research, potentially in the form of a prospective, randomized study across multiple research institutions, would allow researchers to not only determine the extent of damage, but also allow them to develop medications that prevent kidney damage while still taking life-saving blood pressure medication.