The effect of heat therapy on blood pressure and peripheral vascular function: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Exp Physiol. 2021 Jun;106(6):1317-1334. doi: 10.1113/EP089424. Epub 2021 May 10.


New findings: What is the topic of this review? We have conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis on the current evidence for the effect of heat therapy on blood pressure and vascular function. What advances does it highlight? We found that heat therapy reduced mean arterial, systolic and diastolic blood pressure. We also observed that heat therapy improved vascular function, as assessed via brachial artery flow-mediated dilatation. Our results suggest that heat therapy is a promising therapeutic tool that should be optimized further, via mode and dose, for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease risk factors.

Abstract: Lifelong sauna exposure is associated with reduced cardiovascular disease risk. Recent studies have investigated the effect of heat therapy on markers of cardiovascular health. We aimed to conduct a systematic review with meta-analysis to determine the effects of heat therapy on blood pressure and indices of vascular function in healthy and clinical populations. Four databases were searched up to September 2020 for studies investigating heat therapy on outcomes including blood pressure and vascular function. Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations (GRADE) was used to assess the certainty of evidence. A total of 4522 titles were screened, and 15 studies were included. Healthy and clinical populations were included. Heat exposure was for 30-90 min, over 10-36 sessions. Compared with control conditions, heat therapy reduced mean arterial pressure [n = 4 studies; mean difference (MD): -5.86 mmHg, 95% confidence interval (CI): -8.63, -3.10; P < 0.0001], systolic blood pressure (n = 10; MD: -3.94 mmHg, 95% CI: -7.22, -0.67; P = 0.02) and diastolic blood pressure (n = 9; MD: -3.88 mmHg, 95% CI: -6.13, -1.63; P = 0.0007) and improved flow-mediated dilatation (n = 5; MD: 1.95%, 95% CI: 0.14, 3.76; P = 0.03). Resting heart rate was unchanged (n = 10; MD: -1.25 beats/min; 95% CI: -3.20, 0.70; P = 0.21). Early evidence also suggests benefits for arterial stiffness and cutaneous microvascular function. The certainty of evidence was moderate for the effect of heat therapy on systolic and diastolic blood pressure and heart rate and low for the effect of heat therapy on mean arterial pressure and flow-mediated dilatation. Heat therapy is an effective therapeutic tool to reduce blood pressure and improve macrovascular function. Future research should aim to optimize heat therapy, including the mode and dose, for the prevention and management of cardiovascular disease.

Keywords: Waon therapy; arterial stiffness; cardiovascular disease; endothelial function; passive heating.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Pressure
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Systole
  • Vascular Stiffness*