Acupuncture for High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Blood pressure (BP) is expressed by two numbers, for example 120/80. The first number, the systolic pressure, is the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts to pump blood around the body; the second, the diastolic pressure, is the pressure when the heart relaxes after contracting.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is usually defined as either systolic pressure which is 140 or above each time it is taken, and/or diastolic pressure which is 90 or above each time it is taken.
In most cases conventional medicine does not know why BP is high. This is referred to as ‘essential hypertension’.
High BP may cause no obvious symptoms, but increases the chances of developing a number of serious conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Conventional medicine may aim to manage blood pressure which is only slightly high by lifestyle changes such as losing weight, eating a healthy diet, stopping smoking and taking regular exercise, but often medications to lower blood pressure will be prescribed.
This medication is then usually prescribed for life; sometimes it is changed, the dose increased or additional drugs prescribed to try to keep the BP down. Since these drugs can have unwelcome side effects, many people look to other ways to reduce their blood pressure.
High Blood Pressure and TCM
TCM regards high BP as an indicator of disharmony within the person as a whole. What this disharmony involves varies from person to person. Treatment of high BP therefore always begins with a detailed health consultation which helps us to understand the disharmony and how it is originating.
For example, a common cause of high BP is a relative excess of Yang energy, or Yang Qi. It is in the nature of Yang to rise, and if this rising is unchecked by insufficient Yin, Yang Qi rises up along one or more meridians. As well as causing high blood pressure, this can lead to symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, tinnitus, being short tempered, and getting ‘hot and bothered’. In this case TCM treatment will aim to hold down the Yang, for which acupuncture is usually effective.
The TCM practitioner also needs to understand why the Yang is in relative excess. This is often due to modern life’s tendency to deplete the Yin. Yin includes our reserves of energy which can be drawn on in times of need; modern lifestyles tends to use these up as a matter of course, as we have become accustomed to being in a state where we are always pushing ourselves beyond our energetic means, and because we are losing the ability to relax deeply. Treatment may therefore also need to nourish the Yin, and it may involve the practitioner gradually helping the patient to adjust their way of living so as to replenish their reserves properly.
The above is, however, just one scenario which can lead to high BP; in each case treatment needs to be tailored to the individual and their patterns of disharmony. This tailored treatment plan is discussed and agreed upon during an initial consultation appointment.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of High Blood Pressure?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO)1, acupuncture has been proven through controlled trials to be an effective treatment for essential hypertension. One such rigorous, randomised single-blind trial 2, suggested acupuncture decreases BP in hypertensive patients by a similar amount to conventional drug therapy.
1 WHO (2002): Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials
2 Flachskampf F. et al (2007) Randomized trial of acupuncture to lower blood pressure. Circulation. 2007 Jun 19;115(24).