Behind the headlines - Could wrist device replace BP meters?

Scientists have developed a wristwatch-style device to measure BP, according to newspaper reports.

The new wrist device will achieve more accurate aortic BP readings
The new wrist device will achieve more accurate aortic BP readings

It is said to be the first new tool for measuring BP for over a 100 years, and gives more accurate readings by measuring pressure near the heart.

What is the research?
The reports are based on a study of a new method for using BP measurements taken at the wrist to derive estimates of the central aortic systolic pressure.

Professor Bryan Williams and colleagues from the University of Leicester developed a computerised model to measure aortic BP. The model estimates the pressure wave created at the wrist by the beating heart (the radial artery pressure waveform).

This wave is then used by the researchers to estimate the central aortic systolic pressure, a measurement of BP close to the heart.

The model uses 'moving averages' to smooth out variations in pressure reading and create an accurate estimate of central aortic systolic pressure.

The researchers said it was important to be able to measure BP in the aorta, rather than the arm, because it is closer to the heart and brain and that this is where high BP can cause damage.

In addition, the pressure in the aorta can be quite different from that traditionally measured in the arm, they pointed out.

The researchers compared results from this method with existing reference standards.

They also validated it against direct invasive measurements of aortic pressures, using different study populations.

Reporting their findings in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the researchers said the results may have far-reaching implications.

Professor Williams and his team said the findings 'could lead to greater acceptance and use of noninvasive central aortic systolic pressure measurements in clinical studies and ultimately, clinical practice'.

Professor Williams added: 'The beauty of all of this is that it is difficult to argue against the proposition that the pressure near to your heart and brain is likely to be more relevant to your risk of stroke and heart disease than the pressure in your arm.'

Will this change how BP is measured?
The British Heart Foundation pointed out that there are limitations to the conventional way of measuring BP.

Measurements in the arm don't always correspond to the pressure in the artery close to the heart, according to senior cardiac nurse Judy O'Sullivan.

But she added: 'Further research is needed before we can be certain of its superiority in the doctor's surgery.

'Previous research by these scientists has shown that measuring pressure close to the heart is a better indicator of the effectiveness of treatment for high BP than the standard method.

'So while this new device is a step in the right direction, the conventional and well established way of measuring BP will be what most patients experience for some time to come.'

Informing patients
  • Wrist-worn devices could be used to measure BP.
  • The devices measure central aortic systolic pressure, which may be a better indicator of heart risk than BP in the arm.
  • Further research will be needed to show whether such devices out-perform traditional BP devices in clinical practice.

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