Hypertension is a lifestyle disease that is often referred to as the ‘silent killer’. Most people suffering from hypertension take medication on a daily basis to balance their blood pressure. However, there are some people who do not respond to the usual medication hence failing to maintain healthy blood pressure.
It is estimated that 16.4% of people with hypertension are resistant to multiple drug therapies. This is very dangerous as it can lead to other health issues such as a stroke and damage to body organs. If it goes out of hand, it may even lead to death. Fortunately, a new method to treat hypertension that is resistant to drugs is already being used and has proved successful so far.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a method usually used to treat neuropathic pain. However, it was discovered that it can be effective in treating hypertension as well. The procedure involves inserting an insulated thin wire into the brain. The wire is connected with a device which stimulates a particular part of the brain. The device is almost similar to a pacemaker. The procedure is meant to decrease the pathological activity of nerves that regulate blood pressure, hence reducing blood pressure. To ensure a high level of accuracy, the procedure is performed by a robot, not by a human.
A team of researchers from University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, University of Bristol and Nik Patel, a neurosurgeon, used this procedure to treat a patient who was not responding to drugs used to manage hypertension. The patient had been taking several types of medication to reduce her blood pressure. They were causing side effects and all the drugs were not working effectively. Additionally, the woman was suffering from severe headaches, exhaustion and hearing loss on both ears. Her blood pressure went as high as 320/150 mmHg, which is extremely high compared to ‘normal’ blood pressure of someone with hypertension – which doesn’t usually exceed 180/90 mmHg. For a normal person without hypertension, the range is usually 100-120/60-80.
After treatment with DBS, the patient’s blood pressure dropped and now ranges between 180-220/110-130 mmHg. She was also able to reduce the number of medications she was taking to just one. The treatment proved effective since the patient is still doing well 18 months after the procedure.
When DBS is compared to drugs taken to balance blood pressure, it is noted that although the drugs might reduce blood pressure, they do not reduce the activity of blood pressure nerves in the long run. DBS, on the other hand, is able to do this.
At the moment, more research is being conducted to determine whether DBS can be formally used to regulate blood pressure of those with resistant hypertension.