Researchers have unlocked the power of the web to reduce blood pressure in adults with high levels of the dangerous condition.
Overall, participants who took part in a 12-month lifestyle counseling study, which involved regular emails with links to websites and online multimedia, saw a reduction in their systolic blood pressure by 10mmHg — an improvement over the control group that received less engaging emails.
Systolic blood pressure — the higher number in a blood-pressure reading — reflects the pressure in a person’s blood vessels when the heart beats, and anything over 140 is considered elevated. Normal systolic pressure is less than 120.
Among the 264 study participants, average blood pressure was 140/90 mmHg, which is classified as stage 1 high blood pressure. About 15 percent of the participants had stage 2 high blood pressure, with an average reading of 160/100 mmHg.
After 12 months of web-based interventions, the study group saw their average systolic pressure drop closer to the normal blood pressure range, which marks a significant victory for an online-based therapy that can be repeated across populations.
“The electronic counseling (e-Counseling) intervention had an effect similar to that of adding an additional blood-pressure-lowering medication,” said lead author Dr. Robert P. Nolan, a senior scientist at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, University Health Network. “We think this lifestyle counseling intervention can complement and optimize the effectiveness of medical therapy to reduce high blood pressure.”
How the Web-Based Intervention Works
Participants in the study group received weekly emails for the first four months of the program and then saw the emails taper off to every other week for four months, concluding with a single, monthly email for the remainder of the study.
The emails “provided links to online multimedia and interactive tools to increase motivation and skills to begin and sustain a heart-health lifestyle,” according to the study. What separated the emails that the study group received versus those that the control group received was a focus on personalization.
“In the e-Counseling intervention we tried to replicate the experience of going through face-to-face lifestyle counseling for a year,” Nolan said. “We made use of what we know from 60 years of research on the effective features of motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy, and we applied those features using the technology that was available to our team.”
For instance, the study group received educational tools that “included video clips featuring characters discussing their own high blood pressure diagnosis and efforts to make lifestyle changes.” Their emails also included links to online tools for tracking one’s diet and exercise.
Meanwhile, the control group received “generic” information that didn’t contain as many motivational tools as the study group. In addition to reducing their blood pressure to lower levels than the control group, the study groups’ participants also reported more physical activity — about 1,200 more steps per day compared to the control group.
“We believe this dynamic way of engaging patients can be a very powerful tool to promote behavior change,” said Nolan.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.