Lowering blood pressure by tricking the brain

November 30, 2011 3:03:49 PM PST
Eighty million people in the United States suffer with high blood pressure. One in three of those can't get it under control, which can lead to heart disease, stroke or kidney failure.

A new implant is literally changing the minds of those who can't get relief from drugs alone.

Robert Breece is one of 27 million Americans living with what is referred to as "resistant" hypertension because blood pressure stays high despite taking at least three drugs. Robert was taking seven.

"I've taken many drugs over the years, trying to find combinations that work," Breece says. "My blood pressure was out of control and it would have led to my death."

So when Dr. Dominic Sica told Robert about an investigational implant that could help him control his blood pressure, he decided to give it a try, even if it was a mind trick of sorts.

"It is trickery at its finest physiological point of view," says Sica, the Director of the Blood Pressure Disorders Unit at the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System.

Here's how it works: the hypertension device is implanted into the chest and attaches two electrodes to the carotid arteries. It then sends a signal to the brain, fooling it into thinking the blood pressure is higher than it is.

"The brain then says 'Let me turn off various pathways by which then brain controls blood pressure' and when that happens those mechanisms are down regulated and the blood pressure tends to come down," Sica explains.

Patients may still need to take some medications. Robert is now only taking four and his blood pressure dropped from 225 over 125 to 128 over 68.

"It's made a huge difference. I don't worry about my blood pressure," he says.

The device is not for everyone so make sure to consult with your doctor. It is designed for people who have severe cases of high blood pressure that can't be controlled with medication. Patients must also be committed to having the battery surgically replaced every few years.