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Implant device tricks brain, heart into lowering blood pressure

November 10, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Eighty-million people in the U.S. suffer from high blood pressure. Left unchecked, it can lead to heart disease, stroke or kidney failure. But a new implant may help those with hypertension get long-term relief. The device tricks the brain and heart.

Robert Breece is one of 27 million Americans with resistant hypertension.

"My blood pressure was out of control and it would have led to my death," said Breece.

Doctors diagnose resistant hypertension when blood pressure stays high, despite taking at least three drugs. Breece was taking seven.

"I've taken many drugs over the years, trying to find combinations that work," said Breece.

But nothing did. So when Dr. Domenic Sica told Breece 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 from a physiologic point of view," said Sica, the director of the Blood Pressure Disorders Unit at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System.

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," said Sica.

Patients may still need to take some medications. Breece went from seven to 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," said Breece.

The device is not for everyone. It's only for patients who have severe cases of high blood pressure that can't be controlled with medication. Patients must also commit to surgically changing the battery every few years.


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