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New blood pressure trial could transform treatment

A Scottish patient is among the first in the world to undergo a new technique to lower blood pressure by zapping the kidneys with a radio beam.

Early results suggest the procedure could “revolutionise” treatment for the problem, which is currently controlled by taking daily drugs.

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It has already produced dramatic improvements in patients who had been unable to control their high blood pressure despite taking several different pills.

The woman, who was treated in Glasgow, was taking eight separate classes of medication before the procedure, but now no longer needs the tablets.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, does not have symptoms but significantly increases the chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

It is the leading risk factor for premature death worldwide, affecting about one in three adults and nearly half the European population.

The new treatment involves a catheter device that delivers a burst of high-energy radio waves to deactivate kidney nerves which play a role in raising blood pressure.

The device is inserted through a blood vessel in the upper thigh and fed up to the kidneys.

Trial patients who received the therapy saw their blood pressure fall by an average 32 over 12 millimetres of mercury over a period of six months.

The first figure is the systolic pressure which coincides with each heart beat. The second is the diastolic “resting” pressure between beats.

At the start of the international trial the patients had a blood pressure reading of 178 over 97 on average. A second control group given a “dummy” version did not experience any significant change in their blood pressure. A total of 106 patients around the world have now received the procedure as part of the trial, which is reported in an online edition of The Lancet medical journal.

Professor Alan Jardine, of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at Glasgow University, led the trial in Scotland. He said: “This is an incredibly promising study and the results are groundbreaking. It is the most exciting development in this field for many years.

“Before being involved in the trial the treated patient was on eight different forms of medication for her high blood pressure. Now she is on none at all and has been free of medication for two months. Although this is still early in the process, the results could pave the way for an entirely new method of treatment.”

The procedure is likely to cost £2000 to £3000 but patients taking multiple blood pressure pills would cost the NHS thousands of pounds a year, he said.

The tablets have to be taken daily, often for the duration of a patient’s life, and they can have unpleasant side effects.

Professor Jardine warned the new technique, known as the Symplicity Catheter System, carried some risks. He said: “We need more trials because of the risks. Our patient’s blood pressure dropped so much. Generally, when you lower blood pressure you try and do it slowly.

“I think she felt tired after it for a week or two as a result of having low blood pressure but apart from that it all went smoothly.”

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