Breathing Easy Lowers Blood Pressure

New Device Uses Breath to Keep BP in Check

Medically Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD
From the WebMD Archives

July 17, 2002 -- A new device promises to help people lower their blood pressure without drugs or complicated treatments -- one breath at a time. Researchers say it's the first nondrug medical device that's been clinically proven to reduce blood pressure without side effects.

Known as RESPeRATE, the device guides the user through a series of relaxing breathing exercises that slows their breathing and helps lower blood pressure with continued use. Although RESPeRATE has been available with a doctor's prescription for about a year, the FDA now says it can be sold over the counter as a means to help people lower their blood pressure.

About one in four American adults has high blood pressure, defined as more than 140/90. High blood pressure increases a person's risk of stroke, heart disease, and other potentially deadly complications. Researchers say despite treatment with drugs and/or lifestyle modifications, most people with high blood pressure still do not have it under control.

Clinical studies on RESPeRATE found it lowered blood pressure by an average of 14 systolic points (the upper number in a blood pressure reading) and nine diastolic points (the lower number) after eight weeks of regular use (three to four 15-minute sessions per week). Researchers say the device can be used alone or in conjunction with other blood pressure medications or therapies.

RESPeRATE is based on evidence that shows routinely performing certain breathing exercises can lower blood pressure by relaxing the muscles surrounding the small blood vessels and allowing the blood to flow more easily.

"We have known the benefits of therapeutic breathing -- breathing fewer than 10 breaths per minute with prolonged exhalation -- for many decades," says Henry Black, MD, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago and member of InterCure's advisory board. "But it's hard to do without coaching."

The battery-operated device is about the size of a paperback book and uses audio and visual cues to guide the user through a therapeutic breathing exercise. Users place an elastic belt with a respiration sensor around their torso that monitors their breathing and wear standard headphones.

During each 15-minute session, the device slows the breathing from a normal 14 to 18 breaths per minute to the "therapeutic zone" of 10 breaths per minute with prolonged exhalation. Although breathing returns to normal after the session, researchers say the beneficial effects of the slowed breathing accumulate and create a lasting reduction in blood pressure with sustained use.

The maker of RESPeRATE, InterCure Inc., says the device will retail for $299 and will be available immediately.