Study - Stress Management Lowers Systolic Blood Pressure in Elders - Good News if You Hate Taking Medication.

A new study shows that a group of elders who enrolled in a stress management program for eight weeks showed improvement in systolic blood pressure. The results increased the likelihood that the group could stop their medications without the recurrence of hypertension – good news for anyone who is resistant to taking medication for financial or personal reasons.

It is a challenge for physicians to find ways to treat systolic hypertension while maintaining adequate diastolic blood pressure. Inducing relaxation techniques has shown benefit for treatment of essential hypertension, but studies to isolate the effects of stress management for the treatment of systolic hypertension have been lacking. Systolic hypertension is common among elders. According to Jeffery A. Dusek, PhD, from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues: "Although stress management training, in particular eliciting the relaxation response [RR], reduces essential hypertension, its efficacy in treating isolated systolic hypertension has not been evaluated."

Sixty-one patients, aged 55 and older, enrolled in an eight-week stress management versus lifestyle modification program. All of the participants had systolic blood pressure readings between 140 to 159 mm/Hg and less than 90 mm/Hg. Diastolic. An additional eight weeks of therapy was provided for those who lowered systolic blood pressure by at least 5mm/Hg.

When compared to the group who engaged in lifestyle changes, those who continued with relaxation response therapy were able to eliminate treatment with medication. Both groups responded with lower blood pressures. "Although both groups had similar reductions in SBP, significantly more participants in the relaxation response group eliminated an antihypertensive medication while maintaining adequate blood pressure control," according to the authors. "This result has clinical impact since reduction in SBP of 5 mm Hg reduces mortality by 7% and risk of stroke by 30%."

The researchers hope that the study can be extended to the general population. Insights into the role of stress management for disease prevention will provide individual benefit as well as decreasing the burden on our overtaxed healthcare system.

The effects of hypertension produces heart and kidney disease, increases the risk of stroke and cerebral hemorrhage, and accounts for 44.7 million visits to the doctor’s office annually, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Well controlled studies are needed to further the outcomes seen in this research, which is published in the March issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, but for now, the news is encouraging.