Finding a New Treatment for High Blood Pressure

Saint Barnabas Medical Center is part of a global study on an innovative approach to hypertension care.
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MILLIONS OF PEOPLE HAVE HYPERTENSION, commonly known as high blood pressure, and millions more will get it eventually. “If you live long enough, you will likely develop hypertension,” says Sabino Torre, M.D., director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. Most patients respond well to basic treatments, which include lifestyle adjustments like losing weight, quitting smoking and exercising more, taking one or more of a variety of medications, or both. However, some people don’t respond to treatment, or they don’t want to take medications because of side effects, cost, inconvenience or other reasons.  

A new option is being tested for those patients, and Saint Barnabas is one of just two hospitals in New Jersey participating in an international trial. Called the SPYRAL HTN Global Clinical Trial, the study is investigating the use of radiofrequency waves on the nerves that control the kidneys, which play an important role in managing blood pressure.

Dr. Torre says the procedure, called renal denervation, involves inserting a catheter into the groin and through the arteries leading to the kidneys. The catheter is connected to a device that delivers radiowave energy to several nerves entering and leaving the kidneys which effect blood pressure. He says the whole process takes about an hour. The patient is sedated and feels nothing, and is kept in the hospital overnight for observation.

The procedure is being tested on patients with systolic blood pressure (the upper number) of between 150 and 180 mm/Hg and diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) above 90 mm/Hg. Two groups of patients—one on up to three blood pressure medications, the other on no medication—are being tested in the randomized trial. Dr. Torre says the study should run for several years.

The technique has already been approved in Europe, with very good results. “It has proved safe and effective, with almost no complications,” Dr. Torre says. Many patients have seen their blood pressure drop by significant amounts. “Some patients have been able to lower their medications or stop taking them entirely,” he says.

Dr. Torre and his team expressed interest in joining the trial, and were selected because the hospital treats a large number of hypertension patients, has many physicians who specialize in their care and are skilled in minimally invasive surgical techniques. “It is exciting for us because we see the need for bringing a different kind of treatment to these patients,” he says. “We expect a positive result.”

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