Harvard Heart Letter

On the horizon: Targeting nerves to heal the heart

Drug therapy and surgery have long focused on the arteries — and what happens inside of them — to control cardiovascular disease. Researchers are now taking a new look at nerves as a target for treating cardiovascular conditions such as heart failure and high blood pressure.

Two sets of nerves, the sympathetic and vagal nerves, counterbalance each other. The sympathetic system boosts the heart rate and blood pressure while the vagal system lowers heart rate and blood pressure. These systems work together to help the body respond to minute-to-minute changes called for by the demands of life.

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