Objective: Prehypertension is a new category designated by the Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC7) in 2003. Managing prehypertension with nonpharmacological intervention is possibly beneficial to the prevention of hypertension. In this study, we observed the effect of slow abdominal breathing combined with electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback training on blood pressure (BP) in prehypertensives and assessed the changes of heart rate variability (HRV) in order to find an optional intervention to prevent hypertension and acquire some experimental data to clarify the underlying neural mechanism.
Methods: Twenty-two (22) postmenopausal women with prehypertension were randomly assigned to either the experiment group or the control group. The experiment group performed 10 sessions of slow abdominal breathing (six cycles/min) combined with frontal electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback training and daily home practice, while the control group only performed slow abdominal breathing and daily home practice. BP and HRV (including R-R interval and standard deviation of the normal-normal intervals [SDNN]) were measured.
Results: Participants with prehypertension could lower their systolic blood pressure (SBP) 8.4 mm Hg (p < 0.001) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) 3.9 mm Hg (p < 0.05) using slow abdominal breathing combined with EMG biofeedback. The slow abdominal breathing also significantly decreased the SBP 4.3 mm Hg (p < 0.05), while it had no effect on the DBP (p > 0.05). Repeated-measures analyses showed that the biofeedback group + abdominal respiratory group (AB+BF) training was more effective in lowering the BP than the slow breathing (p < 0.05). Compared with the control group, the R-R interval increased significantly during the training in the AB+BF group (p < 0.05). The SDNN increased remarkably in both groups during the training (p < 0.05).
Conclusions: Slow abdominal breathing combined with EMG biofeedback is an effective intervention to manage prehypertension. The possible mechanism is that slow abdominal breathing combined with EMG biofeedback could reduce sympathetic activity and meanwhile could enhance vagal activity.