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Advice from the BP Measurement Experts

New Guidelines for Measuring Blood Pressure from the American Heart Association

 

American Heart Association Logo

The American Heart Association just released a scientific statement on blood pressure (BP) measurement that outlines new guidelines for accurately measuring blood pressure. This is the first time the AHA has made significant updates to their recommendations since 2005. In the statement they describe and compare different methods of measuring BP and make many recommendations. What are the key points that a physician should learn from this new paper?

 

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Blood Pressure Averaging in the SPRINT Study

 

checking blood pressure

In my last blog, I introduced some of the claims and confusion around the NIH Sprint study but today I’d like to clear up the main point of confusion and discuss the actual blood pressure (BP) reading technique used to obtain the SPRINT study’s “research readings”.

We will be examining the SPRINT claims of benefit to medicating to a Systolic BP of 120 mmHg, but that will be for another day. Today the focus is on BP averaging, how it was implemented in the SPRINT study, and why it makes sense even if you aren’t sold on the SPRINT findings.

 

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Top 4 Reasons PLUS Cuffs are an Innovation to the Blood Pressure Industry

 

opd plus cuffs

With the launch of SunTech’s innovative PLUS Cuff sizes, here are some of the reasons you should consider changing your blood pressure cuffs. The PLUS Cuffs were designed to specifically target the need to fit a greater range of patients – including bariatric patients, improve measurement reliability, and cut hospital costs and inventory.

 

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New Measures for Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Health

 

Simulation of Blood Vessels in a Vein

Gone are the days where your cardiovascular health could be summed up in two numbers. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure, measured at the brachial artery, were the key tools for staving off heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular disease (CVD). Have a BP of under 140/90? Great! You are going to live a long and healthy life. Over 140/90? Time to watch your salt and medicate away. While lowering BP in hypertensive patients has been proven to be an effective intervention, it may not be so simple any more. Research, such as the SPRINT study, are finding benefits for managing BP in pre-hypertensive patients. With that, a new series of indices and measurements are offering more tools for doctors to measure and treat hypertension.

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New Advice on What Constitutes High Blood Pressure

 

Man frustrated with home BP device

Blood Pressure experts offer new advice based on a recent study conducted by the ACP/AAFP, which shows that the threshold for hypertension in healthy patients may not be as low as what the SPRINT study of 2015 concluded.

 

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Home Blood Pressure Devices Wrong 70% Of The Time

 

Man frustrated with home BP device

A recent study published in the American Journal of Hypertension shows the majority of blood pressure devices sold and used in people’s homes are potentially inaccurate as much as 70% of the time. Since lots of people measure their blood pressure at home to track their cardiovascular health, this study is understandably noteworthy. But what else can we learn from it?

 


 

You Get What You Pay For

First, let’s talk a little bit about oscillometry. Oscillometry is the general method that most automatic blood pressure devices use to measure blood pressure. This is true for devices in the home, in doctor’s offices, and even in hospitals. As the study pointed out, while the oscillometric method is commonplace, there are differences between devices from different manufacturers because of the mathematical formulas and algorithms used to calculate systolic and diastolic blood pressure values. The math is proprietary, and most private companies that have their own oscillometric technology—including SunTech—guard those calculations very closely.

Why? Well, the simple answer is that the math behind better-performing technologies is based on actual clinical research conducted over long periods of time—in SunTech’s case, decades. This research, and the analysis of the resulting data, is a significant and expensive undertaking that can provide an important commercial advantage when it comes to a device’s clinical accuracy. So if companies had to share their data with the rest of the world, what would be the incentive to conduct all of that research in the first place? So, proprietary data can result in devices with better clinical performance, which is better for physicians and patients. I say ‘can’ because it’s no guarantee, as this study clearly illustrates.

 

If the Cuff Fits...

One other fact about this study merits some additional digital copy. The authors discuss several potential reasons for the reported inaccuracy of almost 70% of the home blood pressure devices analyzed. But there is one that the authors mention briefly that could actually explain a lot. And that’s the blood pressure cuff itself. Now, it’s pretty common for folks to call the entire device—digital box, hose, and fabric that wraps around the arm and inflates--a ‘BP cuff’. But what I’m talking about is just the part that goes on the arm. That’s the actual blood pressure cuff.

Blood pressure cuff sizes are incredibly important for any oscillometric blood pressure device. The math behind these devices assumes that the correctly sized cuff will be used on the patient. See, because of the physics around how non-invasive blood pressure is measured, there’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ blood pressure cuff. To be accurate, the cuff must be sized correctly according the circumference of the patient’s upper arm, for a variety of reasons. The researchers in this study reported that the mean arm circumference of study participants was a bit less than 33cm, and that increasing arm circumference was a statistically significant predictor of an inaccurate measurement.

Now, 33cm is on the high side for most standard, adult-sized blood pressure cuffs. Since home blood pressure devices typically include only a single cuff, manufacturers generally pick a very middle-of-the-road size for the cuff, hoping that it will cover the majority of arm sizes. But in the case of this study, the mean arm circumference is already pushing the upper limit of a middle-of-the-road adult cuff. So it should come as no surprise that as arm circumference increases, accuracy suffers. The researchers didn’t publish any data on the sizes of the BP cuffs that were used with the home BP devices, and I think that would have been helpful.

But the point here is that that size matters when it comes to BP cuffs and oscillometric devices. It matters a lot. It might even matter more than the math inside the device—although that matters too. So if you find yourself in need of a home blood pressure device, the first thing that you need to do is make sure that the cuff that comes with it is the right fit for your arm. Your doctor can help you figure this out if you bring it with you to the doctor’s office. If the cuff isn’t the right size, contact the manufacturer and see if they have a cuff that is.

In fact, even when you are having your blood pressure measured in a doctor’s office, it’s not a bad idea to ask the clinician taking your BP to double-check the sizing of the cuff to your arm, as other studies have shown that using the incorrectly sized cuff in clinical settings is commonplace as well.

 

Maybe We’re Barking Up The Wrong Tree?

While data that points to inaccuracies with home blood pressure devices is important, for professionals in the medical world, it’s not exactly news. And while asking how to make home BP devices better is fine, we should also be asking if there are more accurate alternatives to home BP. And the answer is yes. 24-hour Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitoring (ABPM) is widely considered to be the gold standard for assessing a patient’s blood pressure.

Unfortunately, the reimbursement for ABPM in the United States is currently quite low, and only valid for diagnosing white coat hypertension. In other countries, like the U.K., ABPM is becoming recognized as an important tool for treating general hypertension, and is therefore being treated as such by government and private payers.

At SunTech, our goal is to continue to evolve our Oscar 2 ABPM devices to make them more patient friendly, and allow them to deliver more valuable clinical data, so that clinicians can make better diagnoses and treatments. It doesn’t happen overnight, but we’ll get there.

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What is Hypertension?

 

3D Simulation of the Hardening of a Blood Vessel

As I mentioned in my previous post, Hypertension or high blood pressure means a systolic pressure of 140 or higher and a diastolic pressure of 90 or higher. If left untreated, the time from hypertension onset to death is approximately 20 years. Occurring silently, painlessly and without warning, many do not know they have the disease until they experience its inevitable organ-damaging effects. Once organ failure begins, hypertension is already in its final stages and the patient can expect only a few years to live unless aggressive disease management is undertaken.

 

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What is Blood Pressure?

 

Picture of a Patient having their blood pressure checked by a Doctor

Blood Pressure Basics

Taking a patient’s blood pressure has become a routine practice for medical staff. Unfortunately, training in this area is often met with a very high-level overview and is sometimes neglected in regards to the overall mechanics of manual or automated methods in accurate blood pressure measurement techniques.

 

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8 Ways ABPM Is a Lifesaver

 

Picture of a ABPM Patient with Doctor

Research has proven that ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM) is the best way to determine true blood pressure available to physicians today. Results from an ABPM device will always 1 provide a level of insight unavailable with other forms of blood pressure measurement. However, there are eight situations in which ABPM is especially useful in providing accurate readings to properly diagnose hypertension.

 

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