A recent study presents an experimental procedure that uses ultrasound pulses to target kidney nerves and lower patients' high blood pressure, doing for them what drugs alone could not.
"These findings suggest that renal denervation has the potential to become an important adjunct to drug therapy," he says in a press release Ajay Kirtane, lead author of the research.
High blood pressure, a serial killer
As the blood moves through the circulatory system, it pushes against the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure is a measure of that strength, and if it is high blood pressure it can damage arteries leading to heart attacks or strokes.
Over one and a half billion people around the world suffer from high blood pressure (or "hypertension"). A fact not to be overlooked, because it produces over 8 million deaths every year.
Although many people are able to manage the condition with medication, about 20% of people suffer from so-called "resistant hypertension," high blood pressure that does not respond well even to aggressive treatments.
What is renal denervation for high blood pressure?
The arteries leading to the kidneys contain nerves that help regulate the blood pressure. These kidney nerves tend to be overactive in people with high blood pressure. For this reason, doctors sometimes prescribe drugs designed to reduce their activity.
La renal denervation is a treatment designed to help people who don't respond to those medications.
During the procedure, a device is inserted into an artery in the patient's leg via a catheter. It then follows the artery to the kidneys and uses radio frequency or ultrasound waves to interrupt the kidney nerves.
The Columbia University study
In the research, 136 people with resistant high blood pressure, who were prescribed the same three drugs, were treated with ultrasound renal denervation or a sham procedure.
Two months later, the blood pressure of the treatment group had dropped by more than twice that of the control group: 8 points vs 3 points.
The next steps
The researchers plan to follow the trial participants for five years, and see if the positive impact of renal denervation is permanent and potentially life-saving.
For patients with drug-resistant high blood pressure, an 8-point drop in blood pressure, if maintained for long-term follow-up, will almost certainly help reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other adverse cardiac events.Ajay Kirtane, Columbia University
Renal denervation is still an experimental procedure.