Through the wrist: Blood pressure breakthrough

High blood pressure affects 75 million Americans every year and costs the United States $76 billion. Now, a new device to measure blood pressure could not only save more lives, but also change the way blood pressure has been monitored for more than a century.

One in three adults has high blood pressure. If left untreated, it can become a ticking time bomb leading to heart disease, stoke, or kidney failure.

Those are all things Caroline Lee wants to avoid. Lee wants to stay healthy and says, "I'd like to think that I’m really active."

Caroline gets her blood pressure checked regularly, but now she can get an even better reading by testing what is happening in the large arteries close to her heart, known as central blood pressure.

Normally, blood pressure is measured with a cuff in the upper arm for convenience, but recent studies show brachial blood pressure is not as accurate as central blood pressure for measuring your risk for disease.

Dr. Nicole Weinberg, cardiologist at Saint John's Health Center, says, "Based on the change of your central pressure, you can find out what your risk of having heart disease are."

Being able to measure blood pressure in the aorta, which is closer to the heart and brain, is important because this is where high blood pressure can cause significant damage. Until now it could only be measured directly by surgically placing a catheter or pressure sensor into the aorta.

A new FDA approved machine called the Sphygmocor is changing that. A sensor the size of a pen is pressed at the wrist.

Dr. Weinberg explains, "And through the pressure from your heart in the radial artery we are able to measure what the central pressures are."

In minutes, doctors can recommend either life style changes or drug therapy. For Caroline Lee, she says, “I don't know exactly what it means to have 30-year-old arteries, but I’m pretty happy about it!" Now she can get back to her active lifestyle.

If you're unable to try the new test the next time you get your blood pressure checked, make sure to get it checked in both arms. A new study, published in the journal The Lancet, shows if the readings for the left and right arm have markedly different top numbers, it could be a sign of vascular disease and an increased risk of death.


ABOUT HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE: High blood pressure is a serious condition that can lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and other health problems. About 1 in 3 adults in the United States suffer from high blood pressure. The condition itself usually has few symptoms. Blood pressure is specifically defined as the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can be dangerous and cause harm to the body in multiple ways. (Source:

BLOOD PRESSURE NUMBERS: Blood pressure is measured as systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) pressures. Systolic refers to blood pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood. Diastolic refers to blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats. You will commonly see blood pressure numbers written with the systolic number above or before the diastolic number, such as 120/80 mmHg. All levels above 120/80 mmHg raise your risk, and the risk grows as blood pressure numbers rise. Prehypertension means you will possibly end up with HBP, unless you take steps to prevent it. (Source:

CENTRAL BLOOD PRESSURE: Hypertension is a major risk factor for a wide range of cardiovascular diseases and is typically identified by measuring blood pressure (BP) at the brachial artery. While such a measurement might accurately determine diastolic BP, it does not accurately reflect systolic BP. This is because the blood pressure waveform (and systolic pressure) is distorted as it travels outward from the heart due to the presence of wave reflections from the peripheral arteries. Central blood pressure is the pressure that the heart has to pump against to get blood to flow to the rest of the body. Higher central blood pressures mean that the heart must work harder to do its job. This can eventually lead to heart failure. Central blood pressure also determines the pressure in the blood vessels feeding the brain. If central pressure is too high, it may cause aneurysms and strokes. It be directly measured only using a pressure sensor or catheter inserted into the aorta (usually through an artery in the groin or wrist). This procedure is invasive and can lead to complications. (Source:,

METHODS: Traditional methods for taking blood pressure readings are still being used daily, but the SphygmoCor system may be able to surpass the technology of the traditional cuff methods. The device itself is a lightweight, portable, and used to non-invasively obtain important vital cardiovascular data that cannot be gathered with traditional cuff blood pressure measurements. SphygmoCor allows clinicians and researchers to measure the pressures the heart, brain and kidneys are directly experiencing. SphygmoCor assessments are fast and simple. It offers a painless and comfortable method for patients. (Source:

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