A Simple Guide to Choosing a Home Blood Pressure Monitor
Over 7.5 million Canadian’s have hypertension (high blood pressure). Frequently called “the silent killer”, most of us learn we have hypertension from our family doctors because there are no symptoms or pain to warn us we have the condition.
What is Hypertension?
Our arteries deliver oxygenated blood from our heart to our muscles which fuels their movement. As we age, arteries become stiffer and less elastic; and plaque can build up on the inside walls of arteries. Our circulatory system stills pumps the same volume of blood, but now the arteries are narrower, hence higher pressure.
“Hypertension” is a condition that occurs when this pressure is considered too high. In Canada, the threshold is >135/85mmHg on average and >130/80mmHg for people with diabetes, based on measurements at home. At these levels and higher there is substantial risk of other medical problems including: heart failure, stroke, erectile dysfunction, vision loss, kidney disease, and heart attack.
After your Diagnosis
Your healthcare professional will likely prescribe certain medications to lower your BP, and also recommend a number of lifestyle changes involving diet and exercise that compliment this treatment. You will also be asked to self-monitor your BP at home, so you know your BP is under control and within the targets your doctor has set for you.
Features to consider when selecting your monitor
Choosing a monitor with the “right features” can be a daunting task. The devices all look similar with jargon and icons on the packaging that can be difficult to understand. In Canada, monitors range from about $70 to $150 and can be purchased at pharmacies or on-line. But spending $150 doesn’t mean that machine is more accurate. Higher priced models offer more features and diagnostic capability.
First, look for Hypertension Canada’s “recommended” logo. This logo confirms that the accuracy of the machine has been clinically validated. Next, be honest with yourself. Consider how frequently you plan to use it; are you likely to check periodically, or test several times a day? Are you low-tech, or tech-savvy? Is your hypertension serious, requiring sending your data to a healthcare professional regularly? Do you have a smart phone and are you comfortable using Apps?
The BIOS line up consists of six models ranging from very simple (one button to measure and a second button for memory) to devices that work in conjunction with a smart phone or personal computer. Each model was designed with a specific user group in mind, and therefore the diagnostic capabilities, memory storage, and connectivity of devices varies and these features are reflected in the price.
Averaging Data Function
A blood pressure measurement is a reflection of physical and mental stress at that moment. But BP measurements can be highly variable, even minute to minute. As a result, a single measurement is not as significant as multiple measurements, and averaging the readings is the best way to understand your real blood pressure levels.
Averaging functions can be specific to time ranges within a day, or over several days and months, OR just the last 3 readings. In choosing a monitor, look for details about how the average will be calculated and the user options for accessing averages.
Memory Storage Capacity
Most new monitors include some memory capacity; ranging from 30 to 120 or more, for multiple users. Reviewing this data is crucial in determining whether your therapy is working effectively. Knowing whether you are regularly above your BP targets is key information for health care providers. The time and date of each reading will help explain the numbers. For instance, you may have “morning hypertension”, or you might have elevated BP in the afternoon which might be attributable to the coffee you had at lunch. A log of this data provides important clues, whether it is hand written after each measurement, or accessible in the devices memory.
Irregular Heartbeat Detection
Arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats can be benign or an indication of a more serious heart issue. Within the BIOS line, our 10.0 can screen for atrial fibrillation, a specific arrhythmia that can lead to stroke.
Should the IHB or AFIB icons flash on the screen, users should refer this information to their physicians to investigate further.
Improper cuff sizes cause a lot of measurement errors. An undersized cuff will overestimate BP levels. In fact, consistent cuff tension is necessary when comparing multiple readings.
Measure your arm around the bicep and refer to the size listed for the machine. Extra large and small cuffs are normally available as accessories for the monitor.
Connectivity and Software
Several devices now include Apps or software that can be used to store data and send it to a healthcare professional. These devices require a smart phone, tablet, or computer.
The primary advantage of these technologies is that ALL your measurement data is automatically stored, and can be sorted, then sent to your physician for analysis and ongoing treatment.
They have become particularly helpful during COVID-19 because many clinic visits are being replaced by phone calls with a healthcare provider.
If you are comfortable with technology and your health risk requires regular consultations with a physician, these technologies are ideal!
Measuring blood pressure at home is the best way for people to understand their BP levels and the factors that affect it. The advantage is that people are more relaxed at home, so factors such as white coat syndrome and BP variability are reduced. Users can take a lot of measurements which lead to a clearer understanding of individual blood pressure.
The machine you chose is important, so carefully consider the features you will use in your purchase decision.
Author: Mark Beaton, Sr. VP of Marketing BIOS Medical