Acupuncture for Hypertension

by Mary Vincent, L.Ac.

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is one of the most common disorders seen today. The harder the heart has to work to pump blood through the arteries, especially if those arteries are clogged or narrowed, the higher your blood pressure will be. This can ultimately damage the heart.

The blood pressure is read by two specific measurements, the systolic pressure (greatest force of blood during contractions when the heart beats) and diastolic pressure (the least force occurring when the heart relaxes between beats). A normal, healthy blood pressure reading at rest would be between 100-140 mmHg for systolic pressure and 60-90 mmHg for diastolic pressure. In other words, healthy blood pressure is anywhere from 100/60 mmHg to 140/90 mmHg.

There are two types of hypertension:

Primary hypertension (also called essential hypertension):
This is the most common type of hypertension, accounting for 90-95% of cases. There is often no known cause found in the individual, and it tends to develop slowly over many years. Primary hypertension goes easily undetected, as individuals typically display no symptoms, even while damage is occurring to their heart and vessels (including vessels of the eyes, brain, and kidneys). Often referred to as the “silent killer,” it is important to check your blood pressure regularly (every year or two for those with past healthy readings, and more often if you tend to border on the high end of a normal reading). Risk factors that make a person more likely to develop hypertension include:

▪ Age: The arteries tend to harden as we age
▪ Genetics: Men, African Americans, and those with a family history of hypertension are at greater risk.
▪ High stress levels
▪ Obesity: Excess weight means excess blood volume to provide oxygen to your tissues, and this puts added pressure on arterial walls.
▪ Lack of exercise: Those who don’t exercise tend to have higher resting heart rates, which makes the heart work harder.
▪ Poor diet: High sodium diets and diets low in potassium and vitamin D can raise blood pressure.
▪ Use of tobacco, alcohol, and/or cocaine/amphetamines: Raises blood pressure and damages the heat and arterial walls (particularly with chronic use).

Secondary hypertension:
High blood pressure can also occur as a symptom of another medical condition, but only accounts for 5-10% of hypertension cases. Some underlying conditions that can cause hypertension are kidney disease, adrenal gland disorders, alcohol abuse, and pregnancy. Secondary hypertension differs from primary hypertension in that it occurs quickly, rather than over many years.

While symptoms of hypertension are uncommon, when they do occur, they can include any or all of the following:

▪ Dull headaches, particularly those that occur at the back of the head in the morning
▪ Nosebleeds
▪ Dizziness/Vertigo
▪ Blurred vision
▪ Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

Treatment for hypertension includes lifestyle modifications such as weight loss, stress reduction, increased exercise, improved diet, and a variety of western medications.

The National Institutes of Health now also recommends acupuncture also be added into general treatment guidelines used to regulate hypertension. This is based on a study conducted in 2013, which studied the effects of adding acupuncture into the treatment of 34 patients who had already been on western hypertension medications for 24 months. The study concluded that acupuncture significantly reduced the blood pressure of these patients (systolic blood pressure was reduced from 163.14 +/- 19.33 to 129.49 +/- 18.52, while diastolic was reduced from 94.37 +/- 19.70 to 79.31 +/- 7.87). Patients were treated every two days for one month (a total of 15 sessions).

At BCA, we typically recommend our patients to start with 3 treatments a week for at least one month. We will use a variety of body points, depending on the presentation of the patient. We will also likely use a few points in your ear, as there are several points located there that specifically help to quickly relieve stress and effectively lower blood pressure. We will also want you to check your blood pressure regularly at least during the first few weeks of treatments, in order to monitor the specific, overall effectiveness of the acupuncture on your blood pressure numbers.

Cevik C, Iseri SO. “The effect of acupuncture on high blood pressure of patients using hypertensive drugs.” Acupuncture and Electrotherapy Research Journal. 2013; 38(1-2);1-15.

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