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Sep 26, 2015 05:46 PM EDT

Texting Could Improve Cholesterol, Blood Pressure

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New research suggests that a text message a day could keep the doctor away.

Australian researchers found that a text messaging program that reminds, encourages, and motivates patients regarding the adoption of healthy lifestyles led to improvement in cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body mass index, and smoking status in patients with coronary heart disease, Live Science reported.

Globally, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disease burden. Cardiovascular disease prevention, including lifestyle modification, is important but underutilized.

"I have to say, we were pretty surprised that it worked," Clara Chow, lead author of the study, told NPR.

For the study, researchers collected and analyzed data from more than 700 people with proven coronary heart disease. The study participants were randomly assigned patients to two groups. One that received four text messages per week for six months in addition to usual care and the other just received usual care. The text messages provided advice, motivational reminders, and support to change lifestyle behaviors.

Messages for each participant were selected from a bank of messages according to baseline characteristics (e.g., smoking) and delivered via an automated computerized message management system. The average age of the patients was 58 years; 53 percent were current smokers.

After six months, researchers found that levels of LDL-C were lower in participants who received the lifestyle-focused text messages, as was systolic blood pressure and body mass index. There was also a lower percentage (26 percent vs 43 percent) of smokers in the intervention group, who also reported an increase in physical activity. The proportion of patients achieving three of five guideline target levels of risk factors were substantially higher in the intervention group vs the control group (63 percent vs. 34 percent).

"The duration of these effects and hence whether they result in improved clinical outcomes remain to be determined," the authors conclude.

The findings are detailed in the latest issue of JAMA.

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