Slow-breathing device helps lower blood pressure

People with hypertension who practice slow breathing with the aid of a regulating device find their blood pressure drops, according to a new study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

The device, called RESPeRATE, is about the size of a paperback book, and is hooked up to an elastic belt placed around the chest. As explained in a university press release, the unit monitors the breathing rate of the wearer, calculates the preferred rate and “synthesizes a personalized melody comprised of two distinct tones - one for inhalation and one for exhalation,” which is played through headphones.

Previous studies using the device have shown its effectiveness in reducing blood pressure, the authors explain, but how long it has to be used in order to have an effect has not been determined.

Dr. William J. Elliott and colleagues investigated whether there was a minimum duration of slow, device-guided breathing to obtain a significant lowering of blood pressure in a study of 149 people with high blood pressure. They were randomly assigned to use of the device or simply monitor their blood pressure at home.

Participants who used the device for at least 180 minutes over the 8-week study (approximately 23 minutes per week) experienced an average drop of 15 points in the top (i.e., systolic) blood pressure reading, the authors report in The Journal of Clinical Hypertension.

That compared with a 7-point drop among those who used the device less than 180 minutes during the study, and a decrease of 9 points for those who just monitored their blood pressure.

Even among high users, the device was used only about half the recommended time of 45 minutes/week.

“These data suggest that isolated systolic hypertension, which may be the most difficult form of hypertension to control, can be significantly improved by device-guided slow breathing when performed as recommended,” the team concludes.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Hypertension, October 2004.

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Revision date: July 3, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD