Pacemaker-esque device tricks the body, lowers blood pressure

In people with severe hypertension, the Rheos System mimics blood pressure spikes, triggering the body's natural blood flow regulation system and preventing heart failure.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor on

In people with severe hypertension, this experimental device can trigger the body’s natural blood flow regulation system to lower high blood pressure and prevent heart failure.

“Current drugs and lifestyle modifications can only do so much,” says study researcher John Bisognano of the University of Rochester Medical Center. “I treat a huge number of people who are doing everything right – taking their medications, maintaining a healthy diet, working out – and they still develop resistant hypertension.”

The Rheos System (pictured) delivers jolts of electricity to the neck arteries, reducing blood pressure from over 160/80 mmHg down to 140/90 mmHg within a year.

  1. The battery-powered generator is implanted below the collarbone.
  2. Wires that run from the generator to the carotid arteries (which supply blood to the head) are implanted on either side of the neck.
  3. The device triggers specific receptors on these arteries – called carotid baroreceptors, they regulate blood flow in the body.
  4. The system delivers 4 to 6 volts of electricity, mimicking a spike in blood pressure (at least that’s how the brain interprets it).
  5. The body responds to this phantom blood pressure rise by taking actions to lower it. That includes activating a natural process called carotid baroreflex, which relaxes blood vessels and slows the heart rate.

An estimated 73 million people in the US are affected by hypertension, which raises risks for heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and atherosclerosis.

People who don’t respond to the typical treatment regimen of one to three medications, coupled with improved nutrition and exercise, have resistant hypertension – that’s about 15% of people with high blood pressure.

Unfortunately, the reduction with Rheos wasn’t as great as developers hoped. As HealthDay News reports, in the 265-patient phase III study:

  • 41% of those with activated devices achieved the target blood pressure of 140 mmHg after 6 months of treatment
  • 54% met the target after a year
  • compared with about 20% of the group with nonactivated devices after 6 months, and 46% after a year
  • However, 88% of patients sustained lower blood pressure readings at one year.

"Its effect is as good as two or three drugs for people who are already taking 5 or 6 drugs and still can't control their hypertension," says Bisognano, who is also a consultant for Rheos maker, CVRx Inc.

There are some 125 drugs on the market to treat the condition. “The drugs available now are good for most people with hypertension,” he adds, “but people with resistant sky-high blood pressure need more.”

However, other doctors say that the procedure is more invasive than traditional treatment methods and requires a possibly risky surgery.

Rheos is under clinical evaluation in the US; it’s approved for sale in Europe. The study was funded by CVRx and was presented at the American College of Cardiology scientific meeting this week.

Image: CVRx

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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