New treatment zaps high blood pressure with radio waves

Lia Grainger
Shine OnAugust 27, 2012

A surprising new therapy that uses radio waves to zap the kidneys has been shown to cure high blood pressure in some patients, reports EScienceNews. Though the procedure won't replace the various medications that are currently prescribed for high blood pressure, it will likely provide an effective treatment to the minority of patients for whom these medications are ineffective.

Called renal denervation, the procedure involves zapping tiny nervous cells in the arteries of the kidneys with radio waves. It is believed that in some high blood pressure sufferers, these cells receive erroneous messages from the brain. Killing these nerve cells appears to correct the problem. The procedure is minimally invasive: the radio frequency energy is emitted by a catheter device inserted into the renal arteries through the groin.

Dr. Murray Esler of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute of Melbourne, Australia, recently presented his findings on this new method at the European Cardiology Congress in Munich.

[See also: What everyone should know about blood pressure]

Normal blood pressure is about 120/80, and those involved in the study had blood pressure readings of at least 178/97. Esler and his colleagues found that those who underwent the procedure continued to show a blood pressure reduction of between 28/11 and 32/12 a full 18 months later.

"We are encouraged to see renal denervation shows substantial and sustained reduction in treatment-resistant patients," Esler was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail. While this is exciting news, Professor Peter Weissberg of the British Heart Foundation cautioned that it would only be used for the small subset of patients who were not responding to traditional treatment methods. "This is a relatively small group who will be offered it as an alternative," Weissberg told the Daily Mail, "but until now there hasn't been one."

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, an estimated six million Canadians have high blood pressure -- about 19 per cent of the adult population. Renal denervation is expected to be available in Britain by next spring; if the above numbers are any indication, Canada will be a much healthier place if the treatment makes its way across the pond in the not-too-distant future.

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