Since the 1960’s, medical researchers have been studying the mind-body connection called “biofeedback”. This therapeutic technique involves monitoring involuntary bodily functions and teaching patients how to use relaxation to partially control those functions.
During biofeedback treatment sessions, patients are attached to several electrodes that monitor certain bodily functions. These sensors may track heart rate, skin temperature, brain waves, or muscle tension. As the individual experiences stress, the biofeedback system translates the changes in bodily functions into visual or audio cues.
For example, a light may turn on when the patient’s heart rate goes above 80 beats per minute or a beeping sound may be made when muscle tension reaches a specified threshold. More advanced systems may use visual screens or even smart phones to show the patient’s data.
Upon seeing or hearing these cues, a trained medical professional helps coach the patient in using relaxation, imagery, or other de-stressing techniques. When the patient succeeds at bringing the body back to a normal state, the cues disappear. Together, these steps help the patient recognize a stressed state and learn how to relax back into calm state.
Therapists and other medical professionals use biofeedback to treat a number of conditions: high blood pressure, headaches, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, pain, depression, and many others.
Patients with hypertension are very good candidates for biofeedback training since, many times, the condition is caused or aggravated by stress. Although regulating blood pressure is considered an involuntary function, scientists believe that individuals do have some voluntary control in raising or lowering blood pressure levels.
So far, scientific studies have shown mixed results in evaluating the effectiveness of biofeedback for high blood pressure patients. A study from the July 2013 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine examined the use of biofeedback in treating individuals with Type 2 Diabetes and hypertension. Researchers split the 48 participants into two groups. One group utilized a musical biofeedback device that guided breathing and the other group used a similar looking, but non-functional, “sham” device. After the 8-week study period ended, the researchers found no real differences between the blood pressure rates of the two groups.
That being said, a 2012 review from the Journal of Hypertension provided an analysis of eight biofeedback trials involving patients with hypertension. The authors found that biofeedback-guided breathing exercises did lower blood pressure on a short-term basis. However, they questioned the validity of some of the studies because they were sponsored by a biofeedback device manufacturer.
Should you try it?
Even though the effectiveness of biofeedback hasn’t been scientifically proven, it might be worth a shot for patients with high blood pressure. There are no risks associated with the treatment sessions and these days, many biofeedback devices are designed for personal, in-home use.
Keep in mind that biofeedback training is no replacement for diet, exercise, or even high blood pressure medications when necessary. And as always, be sure to first speak with your physician before starting any new treatments or therapies.
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What biofeedback or specialized relaxation techniques have you used to control your hypertension?