Their blood pressure dropped from 153 mmHg at the start of the study to 126 mmHg after six months. They came with "horrible" side effects, he said, and so he rarely took them.
The pharmacist changed his medicine, the blood pressure machine was moved in, and Thomas - as well as his patrons - started to listen.
Thomas was not at a health clinic or pharmacy or a primary care physician's office.
The new work involved 303 men and 52 barbershops.
The National Institutes of Health paid for the study. Only 12 percent of men in the other group, which received just advice, lowered their blood pressure to the same level. Dr. Victor has a very honest desire to bring down blood pressure in people in general, and in black men in particular.
"It woke me up", said Sims, who has a young son. Levels in between are considered at risk.
With a little golf he plays now, and some changes in his diet, Thomas said his systolic blood pressure is down to 129. And the blood pressure machine is still there for anyone to use.
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Researchers are now studying whether the initial blood pressure reductions can be sustained for another six months. "With this program, we have been able to overcome that barrier".
The reasons why some black men avoid physicians are complex and sometimes involve a deep-rooted distrust of the medical community.
Black men can access health care in a familiar setting: their favorite barbershop.
"There's open communication in a barbershop". "Our customers, they'll talk to us before they talk to anybody else".
The prevalence of high blood pressure among black adults in the United States is among the highest in the world, according to the American Heart Association. Only half of Americans with high pressure have it under control; many don't even know they have the condition. Undetected hypertension can lead to heart and kidney damage as well as strokes and heart attacks.
Among the men who only had access to information, blood pressure dropped by an average of nine points, compared to a 27-point drop for those who had face-to-face time with pharmacists.
"Barbershops are a uniquely popular meeting place for African-American men", Cedars-Sinai Medical Center cardiologist Ronald Victor told the Associated Press.
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"By bringing state-of-the-art medicine directly to the people who need it on their home turf, in this case in a barbershop, and making it both convenient and rigorous, blood pressure can be controlled just as well in African-American men as in other groups", Victor said in a press release. The pharmacists could prescribe drug therapy under a collaborative agreement with the men's doctors.
"No one wanted to do it", he said. "We can partner with others in the community and get this epidemic under control".
Blyler said it didn't take long for the customers to warm up to her and her colleagues. Instead, barbers encouraged them to see their primary care provider for treatment and to make lifestyle changes, such as using less salt and exercising more.
By the end of the study, the researchers found that the barbers' role in encouraging the men to monitor and improve their health resulted in a significant reduction in blood pressure, when coupled with medication from the pharmacists. The corresponding drops in the control group were 9.3 and 4 mm Hg, respectively. I'd been on high blood pressure medicine for like two years then.
The blood pressure goal of less than 130/80 is consonant with new clinical practice guidelines that were released a year ago, Blyler said.
"We're a high statistic for ... hypertension and everything, and it's something we let go by", Thomas said as he worked at the shop, A New You, on Friday. "It was time to get my health right".
The researchers found that 17.5% of men who received help were screened, compared with 8.4% of those who didn't receive the screening help. In barbershops, black men could speak openly and honestly about a range of topics, including their health - and that seems to continue today. "All I could think about was me having a stroke and not being here for him".
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"Folks can ask questions or get information about their health in a 'low-stakes, ' relaxed environment", she said.