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A new study found that traditional blood pressure measuring techniques are not accurate enough

Posted April 20, 2018

Every time we go to the doctor we get our blood pressure checked. It is one of the vital signs that allow doctors to see the condition of the patient‘s organism. However, now scientists are raising doubts about the traditional methods of measuring the blood pressure. A team led by UCL discovered that using the traditional methods increases the risk of missing vital health signs.

Traditional methods of measuring blood pressure are not entirely accurate, because patients may feel relaxed or alarmed by the environment in the clinic. Image credit: via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

We’ve all been there – it is one of those medical procedures that you simply cannot avoid. You sit in a chair and the doctor or nurse puts an inflatable sleeve on your arm. It inflates with a couple of pumps, if a hand-held mechanical device is used, or the machine inflates it and then displays the measurement. Scientists say that regardless of the device used, the method itself is flawed. They assessed 63,000 doctors’ patients, who had their blood pressure tested using traditional methods. These people also had their blood pressure monitored using an ambulatory blood pressure monitoring device, which is worn all the time at home and measures the blood pressure every 20 to 30 minutes.

Scientists found that the ambulatory blood pressure monitoring device was much more accurate (by 50 %) than the devices used clinically. This means that the more modern method is much more likely to predict patient’s risk of death accurately. The biggest advantage of the ambulatory blood pressure monitoring devices is that they monitor blood pressure throughout the day, which allows seeing how different activities affect this vital function. For example, maybe the blood pressure is unusually high during sleep? There are also phenomena called ‘masked hypertension’, when the blood pressure is high after leaving the doctor’s office, and ‘white-coat hypertension’ when blood pressure is only elevated when measured. That can seriously throw off the diagnosis.

Doctors have known for a very long time that blood pressure measurements in the clinic setting are not accurate. People react to the environment and either relax more than they normally can, or tense up. Bryan Williams, co-leader of the study, said: “With a much more accurate assessment of a patient’s blood pressure, doctors will be able to provide the most effective treatments at the earliest opportunity, which will save many more lives”. This is very important advancement, because one billion people around the world have high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is associated with a variety of diseases and is the leading preventable cause of premature death in the world. Blood pressure measurement remained the same for a very long time, so it is in need of improvement. Especially having in mind how many lives it can affect in terms of accurate diagnosis.


Source: UCL

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