New implant can help change the minds and bodies of people with high blood pressure

Eighty million people in the United States suffer with high blood pressure.

One in three of those cannot get it under control.

That can lead to heart disease, stroke or kidney failure.

Now, a new implant is literally changing the minds of those who cannot get relief from drugs alone.

Going for a walk is not a problem for Sunni and Dayli anymore now that their owner's blood pressure is under control. However, it was not always the case. Robert is one of 27 million Americans with resistant hypertension.

Robert Breece says, "My blood pressure was out of control, and it would have led to my death."

Doctors diagnose resistant hypertension when blood pressure stays high despite taking at least three drugs. Robert was taking seven.

"I've taken many drugs over the years, trying to find combinations that work."

But nothing did. So, when Dr. Dominic Sica told Robert about an investigational implant that could help him control his blood pressure, he decided to give it a try, even if it was a mind trick of sorts.

Dr. Sica says, "It is trickery at its finest physiological point of view."

Here is how it works: the hypertension device is implanted into the chest and attaches two electrodes to the carotid arteries. It then sends a signal to the brain, fooling it into thinking the blood pressure is higher than it is.

"The brain then says, 'Let me turn off various pathways by which then brain controls blood pressure, and when that happens, those mechanisms are down regulated and the blood pressure tends to come down.’"

Patients may still need to take some medications. Robert went from seven to four, and his blood pressure dropped from 225 over 125 to 128 over 68.

Robert says, "It's made a huge difference. I don't worry about my blood pressure."

Now, he can focus his attention on what matters: his two best friends.

The device is not for everyone.

It is designed for people who have severe cases of high blood pressure that cannot be controlled with medication.

Patients must also be committed to having the battery surgically replaced every few years.


BACKGROUND: Hypertension, high blood pressure, is the most common cardiovascular disease. High blood pressure refers to the force blood pushes against artery walls, and just like too much pressure can damage a tire, high blood pressure can threaten healthy arteries. Therefore it can lead to life-threatening conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

CAUSES: For most adults, there is no identifiable cause of high blood pressure. Primary hypertension tends to develop over the years. As for secondary hypertension, this can be caused by other conditions as well as certain medications.

COMPLICATIONS: Some of the complications involved with hypertension can include: aneurysm, stroke, heart attack, vision loss, and trouble with memory or understanding. (

TREATMENT: Ideally, lifestyle changes are one of the things suggested to treat high blood pressure. Changes can include quitting smoking or a healthier diet. However, resistant hypertension is blood pressure that is resistant to treatment. Now, the Rheos system, an implantable hypertension device, is hoped to be the treatment for individuals that find lifestyle change and medication is just not enough to lower blood pressure.

APPLICATION: The purpose of the Rheos system is to trigger the body's own natural blood flow regulation system to treat high blood pressure and heart failure. This is done through a surgical procedure by implanting the device under the skin near the collar bone. The electrode is placed on the carotid artery and the lead runs under the skin and is connected to the device. The device works by electrically activating the body's sensors that regulate cardiovascular function. The signals are then sent through neural pathways to the brain therefore the brain sends signals to other parts of the body to treat blood pressure and heart failure.

Domenic A. Sica, M.D.
Virginia Commonwealth University Health System
(804) 828-2223

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