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YCAN - Blood Pressure Biofeedback



High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the force of blood as it circulates through the blood vessels. It’s defined by two numbers. The systolic (top, or first) number is the pressure of blood in the arteries while the heart is beating. The diastolic (bottom, or second) number is the measurement of pressure while the heart is at rest (i.e., between beats).

Normal blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 120 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure of less than 80 mm Hg. Prehypertension is a systolic reading of 120-139 OR a diastolic reading of 80 to 89. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a systolic pressure of 160 or higher OR a diastolic pressure of 100 or higher.

According to the American Heart Association, about 76.4 million adults in the U.S. (about one in three people) have high blood pressure. Risk for the condition is higher among those with a family history of hypertension, older adults (over 45 for men and over 55 for women), African-Americans, and patients who are overweight, sedentary and follow an unhealthy lifestyle.

Over time, the extra pressure in the circulatory system can damage the walls of the arteries, causing them to weaken and scar. This increases the risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke and damage to other organs and tissues. Researchers report high blood pressure was the cause of about 57,732 deaths in 2007.

Controlling High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is often caused by constriction of the arteries, which makes it harder for blood to get through the circulatory system. This causes the heart to work harder, adding extra force to the blood.

One of the causes of artery constriction is psychological stress. David Schechter, M.D., Family Medicine physician in Beverly Hills, CA, explains that when the body senses a stressful or dangerous situation, our innate “flight or fight” response system kicks in. This leads to a rush of adrenaline, a hormone that causes the blood vessels to narrow, pulling more blood to the heart and lungs. When stress is prolonged, the arteries remain constricted, leading, in many cases, to high blood pressure.

Schechter says the standard treatment for high blood pressure is diet modification and exercise. But many people also need medications to bring down their blood pressure.

Biofeedback for Blood Pressure Control
Sometimes patients with borderline or lower levels of hypertension don’t want to take medications to control their blood pressure. Schechter says there may be another option for them, called RESPeRATE®.

RESPeRATE works on the principal of controlled, or paced, breathing (similar to that used in meditation). The device consists of a belt with a sensor, headphones and a small computerized control unit. The sensor belt is secured around the chest. While the person breathes normally, the sensor detects and measures the pace of inhalation and exhalation. Then, the control unit creates two distinct tones to match the breathing, one for inhalation and one for exhalation. The goal for the patient is to synchronize his/her breathing to the tones (heard through the headphones). Gradually, the control unit prolongs the exhalation time. This slows the breathing rate, eventually reaching a target rate of less than 10 breaths/minute. Ideally, the slowed breathing promotes de-stressing, which relaxes the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.

Patients generally use RESPeRATE for 15 minutes at a time, three to four days a week. Schechter says with continued use (generally about 30 days), most users are able to sustain the lowered blood pressure. In times of extra stress, or when blood pressure starts to increase, the RESPeRATE can be used again.

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