We have written many times about the importance of home blood pressure monitoring. One measurement taken at the doctor’s office is like a snapshot. However, readings can very throughout the day which makes a record of your blood pressure over time all the more important.
If your blood pressure is elevated, it means the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries is too high, which can cause damage over time. Many are familiar with the related heart risks this can cause. For instance, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.
Essential reading: A roundup of the leading smart blood pressure monitors
Now, a new research study from Canada, suggests that home blood pressure monitors are actually leading to an unnecessary strain on the healthcare system. Apparently, the study of more than 200,000 emergency room visits across 180 sites, shows nearly a two-thirds increase in the number of emergency room visits for hypertension in the ten years up to 2012. This is despite a 28% decrease in the number of hospitalizations for hypertension during this period. Similar studies in the US have also shown that emergency department admissions for hypertension are on the rise.
So what is going on?
In 2005, the Canadian Hypertension Education Program began recommending home blood pressure monitoring as a self-management tool for the majority of all patients with hypertension. Many other countries did the same.
While the Canadian study did not suggest an explanation, it does note that emergency room visits for hypertension occurred after an elevated home or pharmacy blood pressure measurement. This leads to the conclusion that home blood pressure monitoring without an appropriate feedback loop about the readings results in unnecessary doctors visits. While people are increasingly using home blood pressure monitors and are more aware of the dangers of hypertension, they have not really been given much guidance about what to do if they spot higher than normal readings.
“Stroke remains a huge killer and we do appreciate patients with hypertension being so conscientious about monitoring their readings,” Dr. Clare Atzema, the lead researcher in the Ontario study, told Science Daily.
“Patients should be aware that unless their high blood pressure coincides with symptoms of a medical emergency, such as chest pain, severe headache, nausea or shortness of breath, they probably do not need to visit the ER. We of course encourage them to follow up as soon as possible with their regular physician. If there is any doubt, come to the emergency department: we would rather have you come without an emergency than stay home with one.”
So yes. By all means purchase a home blood pressure monitor. It can be a life saving investment. But be smart about emergency room visits. WebMD suggests that you call a doctor if:
- your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher on two or more occasions;
- you think you may be having side effects from your blood pressure medicine;
- your blood pressure is usually normal and well controlled, but it goes above the normal range on more than one occasion.
Your blood pressure readings can fluctuate from day to day and also due to factors such as stress, physical activity, caffeine, and nicotine. Many people have high blood pressure without even knowing, but once your readings measure high – and are confirmed as such outside a clinical setting – it’s important to take steps to reduce it.
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