Doctors take high blood pressure message to black barbershops

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If employed on a broad scale, the approach could make major inroads in treating African-American men, a population that is more likely than other races to have high blood pressure ― a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke ― and less likely to be in a doctor's care, researchers said.

In the second group, barbers encouraged the men to seek advice from their respective primary care providers on treatment and lifestyle changes.

African-American men who received medical intervention aimed at controlling their high blood pressure while at the barber saw a marked drop in blood pressure in just six months, according to research presented at the American College of Cardiology's 67th Annual Scientific Session. At 6 months, the mean systolic blood pressure dropped by 27.0 mm Hg (to 125.8 mm Hg) in the intervention group and by 9.3 mm Hg (to 145.4 mm Hg) in the control group.

Now paying a visit to barbershop can help men to lower high blood pressure. At the end of six months, 64 percent of those who saw a pharmacist had blood pressure in the normal range, compared with 12 percent of those who saw only their barber and were referred to their own doctor. Also there was a decrease in diastolic blood pressure of 18 mmHg. Men in the first group met with barbers who encouraged them to speak with specially trained pharmacists during their monthly barbershop appointments. At six months, 100 percent of those seeing a pharmacist and 63 percent of those seeing only a barber were taking blood pressure medications. "What's different about this study is it looks at ways to effectively bring it down with the help of your friends, family and support group".

Victor et al. noted one of the limitations of their study is pharmacists targeted blood pressure below 130/80 mm Hg, while primary care providers for control-group participants may have used an in-office goal of 140/90.

The researchers also pointed out an additional 3.5 million black men in the US are considered to have hypertension now that the ACC and American Heart Association have dropped the lower threshold to 130/80 mm Hg. "It's a no-brainer that black men are at the highest risk of high blood pressure". "We can not fear what the doctor will tell us. Since I could see his heart in this, it was easy for me to offer assistance". The new study is unique because it combined barbershop-based health outreach with the delivery of care by medical professionals at the barbershop and evaluated subsequent efficacy with a randomized trial.

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"There is a different level of trust and respect that's earned when you meet people where they are, instead of in a hospital or clinic", Blyler said.

Victor said trust and rapport is essential because high blood pressure a chronic condition that requires ongoing care and lifestyle changes. The guidelines suggest that for many people, making changes in lifestyle-such as improving the diet to lower salt intake and increasing physical activity-can bring levels down to the new, lower range. "It is often a challenge to get people who need blood pressure medication to take them, even as the costs and side effects have gone down over the years".

In 2011, Victor published a study that showed that barbers could be effective in helping their patrons battle hypertension.

Researchers are now studying whether the benefits can be sustained for an additional six months.

The doctor wants to expand his reach by studying 3,000 men in several cities across the country, as well as adding cholesterol screenings into the mix.