Apr. 12, 2001 Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the New England Research Institute have received a multimillion dollar cooperative agreement from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to look at the efficacy of acupuncture in treating high blood pressure. The study, Stop Hypertension with the Acupuncture Research Program (SHARP), is a 180 person pilot study which may convert to a larger Phase III trial if initial results are promising.
About 50 million Americans suffer from hypertension, or high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. Conventional medications are expensive and may leave patients with unpleasant side effects, such as ankle swelling, fatigue, depression and sexual dysfunction.
Acupuncture, long used by the Chinese to relieve symptoms of a number of diseases and illnesses, may prove to be a more effective way to treat these patients. It may also reduce the need for medications.
A form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture uses small needles to puncture the skin. This puncturing activates sensory glands, which are believed to release endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers. Practitioners in Western Medicine have been using acupuncture for years to treat a number of medical conditions.
"High blood pressure is a significant health problem in the United States, and a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. While there is some preliminary indication that acupuncture may reduce high blood pressure, these studies differ from numerous methodological flaws," says Randall Zusman, MD, an investigator on the study and director of Hypertension and Vascular Medicine at MGH.
Zusman and his colleagues hope to demonstrate that alternative medical therapies are effective in controlling the blood pressure of a significant number of patients without dependence on drug therapy. Volunteers will stop taking their hypertension medications and will be randomly assigned to receive standard acupuncture therapy, individualized acupuncture therapy based on TCM diagnostic principles, or non-therapeutic acupuncture. Patients will be given 12 acupuncture treatments during a six-week period and then followed by a physician for one year. Their blood pressure will be monitored throughout the study. If acupuncture treatments fail to control their blood pressure, patients will resume their medication.
"The studies already reported in the medical literature are very encouraging and we anticipate that a significant number of participants will respond to the treatment," Zusman says. "The goals of the SHARP study are not only to determine if acupuncture will lower blood pressure, but to determine how long the effect persists and if patients have a different response to different acupuncture methods."
Other investigators on the study are: James Thompson, MD, Director of the MGH Acupuncture Research Center; and May Pian-Smith, MD, of MGH Department of Anesthesiology Acupuncture Center, and Leslie Kalish, ScD, New England Research Institute.
The Massachusetts General Hospital, established in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $300 million and major research centers in AIDS, the neurosciences, cardiovascular research, cancer, cutaneous biology, transplantation biology and photo-medicine. In 1994, the MGH joined with Brigham and Women’s Hospital to form Partners HealthCare System, an integrated health care delivery system comprising the two academic medical centers, specialty and community hospitals, a network of physician groups and nonacute and home health services.
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