The Big Mistake in Personal Blood Pressure Measurement

Over three million Canadians have purchased blood pressure measurement devices for home use, yet those personal devices may not be accurate, cautions Hypertension Canada. May is Hypertension Month, and for more than fifteen million Canadians living with or at risk for hypertension, regular blood pressure measurement is key to knowing how their lifestyle changes or medications are working to keep their blood pressure within a healthy range.

“Inaccurate devices may give readings that are lower or higher than the blood pressure actually is, giving false indications of your health,” says Angelique Berg, Chief Executive Officer of Hypertension Canada. “With the number of devices available for purchase, it can be difficult for people to tell which are accurate.”

Blood pressure is the force of the blood against the walls of our blood vessels, and for most of the population, ideal blood pressure measures 120/80 mmHg or below.  Too much force in the vessels, called hypertension, causes organ damage in the brain, eyes, heart and kidney over time, and can lead to chronic and deadly diseases like heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and dementia if not controlled. Blood pressure is also sensitive to treatments. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, like the low-sodium DASH-diet, have been shown in research to reduce systolic blood pressure, the top number in a reading, by up to 10 mmHg. Medications can produce similar reductions.

“Hypertension is highly sensitive to treatment, so accurate monitoring of blood pressure control is of key importance,” explains Dr. Nadia Khan, President of Hypertension Canada. “Readings that are too low leave a person at risk of complications, and readings that are too high cause needless worry, and even may be a contributing factor behind the recent increase in hypertension-related emergency department visits.”

Blood pressure monitors fall into Health Canada’s Class II medical devices, which requires only the manufacturer’s senior officer’s attestation that the device does what it says it will. The device might measure blood pressure, but its degree of accuracy may be unproven. The question of accuracy gets more confusing with the claims of some wearable devices and the ease of ordering devices online that may not be regulated at all.

To cut through the confusion, Hypertension Canada has released the first list of recommended blood pressure measurement devices in North America, each reviewed and confirmed to have met the newest international standards set by AAMI (the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation) and the ISO (the International Organization for Standardization). Open to all blood pressure devices, including those used at home, in clinics, and in pharmacies, the program helps Canadians and Canadian organizations to easily identify validated, accurate blood pressure measurement devices when making purchasing decisions.

“Choosing the right device is the right first step,” says Khan. “Equally important are ensuring the device’s cuff fits well upon purchase, and using the device in the right way.”

Hypertension Canada recommends the acronym, SMILES as the right way to measure blood pressure, whether at home or in a clinic or pharmacy:

Seated, with back and measurement arm supported,
Middle of the cuff at heart level, its lower edge one Inch above the elbow crease,
Legs uncrossed and feet flat on the floor,
Empty bladder and bowel, and with
Silence, for five minutes before and during the measurement, no talking, movement or distractions.

This month, pharmacies and clinics across Canada are holding blood pressure screening clinics to help Canadians measure their blood pressure, accurately, and to know their numbers as the critical first steps in hypertension prevention and control. /


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