Managing blood pressure in barbershops yields substantial improvements

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Sixty-four percent of the men in the intervention group improved their blood pressure to levels in the normal range, compared to 12 percent of the control group.

The men seen by the pharmacist had mean drops of 27 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and 18 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure.

"When we provide convenient and rigorous medical care to African-American men by coming to them-in this case having pharmacists deliver that care in barbershops-blood pressure can be controlled and lives can be saved", said study lead author Ronald G. Victor, MD, associate director of the Smidt Heart Institute. Of the 309 men who completed the six-month study, 132 were randomly assigned to receive monitoring and medication from a pharmacist who visited the barbershop, while the other 171 were encouraged by barbers to engage in lifestyle modifications and schedule doctor appointments.

Ciantel Blyler, a clinical pharmacist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and co-author of the study, told CNN that she was "surprised" by the results. Only 12 percent of men in the other group, which received just advice, lowered their blood pressure to the same level.

As CNN reported, Dr. Joseph Ravenell, an internist at NYU Langone Health, and his colleagues previously researched how barbershops and other community-based strategies could help diagnose and treat hypertension and colorectal cancer.

"Medical mistrust has been an important barrier to African-Americans seeking health care, and so the barbershop - where men go on a monthly basis and have an opportunity to develop a rapport with a trusted key opinion leader in the community - that rapport is a ideal foundation for talking about health", he said.

Researchers found that after six months, the men who received both the education from their barbers and the drug therapy from the pharmacists were more likely to see their blood pressure drop to a healthier level and remain under control than the comparison group that received only information and encouragement to see their doctors.

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The researchers write in the study that they believe the intervention succeeded because the pharmacists made getting blood pressure treatment very convenient. Almost two-thirds of patrons in this group brought their blood pressure down to a healthy number after six months. Their systolic blood pressure dropped from 155 mmHg at the start of the study to 145 mmHg after six months.

Left untreated, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels throughout the body, according to the American Heart Association.

"This is a very large effect for a hypertension trial of any kind", Victor said. At the start of the study, about half of the participants were taking at least one blood pressure medication, with an overall average of one medication in both groups.

Researchers have started a second phase of the study to determine if the benefits can be sustained for another six months.

The National Institutes of Health paid for the study.

This study was simultaneously published online in The New England Journal of Medicine at the time of presentation. In addition, they hope to expand the program to reach other parts of the country, as well as men with more moderately elevated blood pressure.

The American College of Cardiology is a 52,000-member medical society that is the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team. The ACC leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines.

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