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Zapping nerves may help control blood pressure

By Marilynn Marchione
Associated Press / November 18, 2010

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CHICAGO — Some people who couldn’t get their blood pressure under control despite taking a fistful of pills every day found relief from an experimental treatment that shows promise as a permanent fix for the condition.

The treatment uses radio waves to zap nerves near the kidneys that fuel high blood pressure. It is done through a tube pushed into a blood vessel in the groin, much like the angioplasty procedures for opening clogged heart arteries.

In a study of about 100 people, the top number of the blood pressure reading fell an average of 33 points among those who had the treatment. Doctors say that is much better than the less-than-10-point drop that many drugs give.

“I am extremely interested in this,’’ said Dr. Elliott Antman, a Brigham and Women’s Hospital cardiologist who is vice chairman of the American Heart Association conference in Chicago, where study results were reported yesterday.

Even if the treatment doesn’t wind up being a cure and is only partly successful, that’s still beneficial because these people are at grave risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death, and drugs are not helping them enough now, he said.

The fact the treatment also improves blood-sugar control makes it especially attractive for diabetics with high blood pressure.

About 75 million Americans and 1 billion people worldwide have high blood pressure — readings of 140 over 90 or more. Most people need three or four drugs to treat it, and only about one-third are well-controlled on medicines.

The new treatment damages certain nerves and causes key arteries to permanently relax. It is being developed by Ardian Inc., a Mountain View, Calif., company whose investors include medical device giant Medtronic Inc. It was approved two years ago in Europe and is coming into wider use as doctors there get trained to do the procedure.

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