An analysis of an experimental procedure called “renal denervation” — used to try and reduce high blood pressure — casts doubt on how well the procedure works.

According to a report on the new analysis, which is publishing online this week in the journal Heart, renal denervation may only lower blood pressure by about one-third of the amount reported in earlier studies.  Renal denervation therapy is not currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, although trials are underway in the United States to evaluate the procedure for use in patients with high blood pressure that is difficult to control.

During renal denervation, physicians thread a catheter to the arteries leading to the kidneys, where it delivers radio waves to deaden part of the nerves lining the arteries. Those nerves are believed to contribute to high blood pressure.

Despite the potential differences in the reported impact of renal denervation, the therapy is still promising, said Robert Bonow, past president of the American Heart Association and Goldberg Distinguished Professor of Cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Any drug or device, new or old, that lowers blood pressure is potentially very important in lowering the risk of future strokes and heart attacks. In patients whose blood pressure is difficult to control with medications, this new approach may be a significant step forward,” Dr. Bonow said.

“However, for the great majority of patients with this very common health problem, the keys will be following their physicians’ advice about medication adherence and lifestyle. It should not be overlooked that exercise, weight control, and diet are very effective means to reduce blood pressure and should be the foundation upon which medication and/or device therapies are added if necessary,” Dr. Bonow said.

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