New approach tested for high blood pressure

“If there was a snake in the room, all of our blood pressures would go up, appropriately so,” explained interventional cardiologist Dr. Manesh Patel of Duke University, one of more than 60 medical centers around the country studying Medtronic Inc.‘s nerve-zapping procedure.

But sometimes those nerves stay switched on when they shouldn’t be, something today’s medications can’t address. The hope is that destroying a small number of the nerves could calm an overactive system, relaxing arteries and lowering blood pressure.

“Interrupting that signal makes physiologic sense,” Patel said, adding that some patients have driven hundreds of miles to see if they’re candidates. “There’s a large unmet need.”

Some 78 million people in the country, about 1 in 3 adults, have high blood pressure, meaning readings of 140 over 90 or higher. An additional 27 million people will have it by 2030, says a grim forecast from the American Heart Association. That’s because the population is getting fatter and older. In fact, about half of people in their 50s have high blood pressure but by age 75, three-fourths do.

“If people live long enough, the vast majority are going to have hypertension,” says Dr. Michael Mussolino of the National Institutes of Health’s cardiovascular division.

Only about half of patients have their hypertension under control. Most need multiple drugs to treat it. Some 10 percent, more than 7 million people like Ezzell, have the resistant hypertension that is the initial target of the nerve-zapping procedure - people with high blood pressure despite three or more different kinds of medications.


By Lauran Neergaard and Matthew Perrone

Associated Press

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