High blood pressure is sometimes called the “Silent Killer”. This is because many people with the condition are unaware they have a problem. Often there are few symptoms until after the damage is done to the heart and arteries. It is estimated about 30% of Americans are affected, leading up to 60,000 deaths per year.
Essential reading: Top smart blood pressure monitors
Monitoring blood pressure is particularly important for the older generation as the effects of unhealthy lifestyles build up over time. In addition to age, factors that raise your risk include family history (genetics), lack of exercise, being overweight, stress, high salt diet, smoking and sleep deprivation to name a few.
The key, though, is realising you are affected. You can then take measures to improve your health by eliminating some of the risk factors.
The good news is its never been easier to monitor your heart health from the comfort of your home. High tech has enabled a whole new generation of blood pressure monitors (BPMs). These typically communicate via Bluetooth or WiFi with a smartphone app which acts as a central repository for readings.
Withings is a pioneer and leader in this area. A few years back the French outfit came out with one of the first smart BPMs. With their latest device, they are taking heart health tracking up a notch once again.
Announced at CES 2019, BMP Core has the ability to monitor three conditions with one product – blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and valvular heart disease. This means device is designed to provide users with a complete heart health checkup in the space of couple of minutes. Withings says its latest BPM was developed with the help of cardiologists from two major hospitals in Paris.
I’ve strapped one on daily for the past few weeks. Read on for my Withings BPM Core review.
Features and using BPM Core
Interpreting the results
The only clue that Withings BPM Core is not your regular BPM is in the white tube attached to the cuff. It houses the smarts and the battery.
The stylish looking 3 in 1 device is fairly large as far as BPMs go, but that’s a small sacrifice when you take into consideration what it can do. The gizmo also weights around 430 grams which is probably a bit more than an average BPM.
Because the thing communicates with the smartphone app via Bluetooth or WiFi, there are no wires or other attachments you need to have with you. This makes it pretty portable as it would not really take too much space in a suitcase or bag during travel or commute.
Having said that, there is a micro-USB cable which is used to recharge the battery. But you won’t need it very often since a full charge will keep BMP Core going for up to 6 months. Withings has a tradition of churning out devices with great battery life. I am also the owner of the company’s Body Cardio scale which is good for up to a year between charges.
As far as design, BMP Core comes with a grey fabric cuff which measures 560 x 165 x 450 mm when fully unfolded. This should suffice pretty much everyone as it fits arms with a circumference between 9″ to 17″ (22 cm to 42 cm).
The tube is built of PC plastic at one end and stainless steel (which houses the electrodes for taking ECG readings) at the other. When you fit the cuff, you want to make sure the metal end is facing down. The round stethoscope is located on the side. It has a silicone membrane with a stainless steel support and should be positioned on the side of your chest when taking a reading.
The tube also houses an LED matrix screen which is a huge improvement over previous generation devices which only allowed you to access readings on the smartphone app. Lightly tap the top of the unit and the screen will spring to life. It will welcome you and then guide you through your readings.
As soon as the test concludes it will display the systolic and diastolic readings, along with the ECG on the device itself. Everything will be colour coded in red/yellow/green, so you will know how well you’ve done at a glance. The results will also be followed by the name of the person taking the test. BPM Core can be used by up to 8 people. You can assign a measurement to a user directly on the device.
All of this is very convenient as it means you don’t need to open up the app unless you are interested in viewing the results in more detail. Up to 8 measurements can be stored on the device between synchronisations. The Withings cloud and app, of course, have unlimited storage. The Wi-Fi sync means you don’t need your phone nearby and uploading is done automatically.
A typical BMP churns out information on systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The first number measures the pressure in blood vessels when the heart beats, the second when the heart rests between beats. You want to aim for a systolic reading below 120mmHG and diastolic below 80 mmHG. Most BPMs will also display info on your pulse. Withings Core does all this and more.
The headline feature is the built-in ECG. We’ve never seen this type of functionality in a BPM.
ECG is used to identify atrial fibrillation (AFib), a serious form of irregular heart rhythm that can lead to heart failure and is a major risk for stroke. The Apple Watch Series 4’s claim to fame is its ability to measure ECG, and we’ve seen a number of other stand-alone wearables such as AliveCor with the same ability. But this is a first for a blood pressure monitor. It actually makes much more sense for this type of functionality to come in a BPM than a smartwatch.
Coupled with this, the digital stethoscope on BPM Core can provide early detection of valvular heart disease. The condition is characterised by damage to one of the four heart valves and may require surgical intervention.
The next to chest positioning during measurement allows the digital stethoscope’s to record specific heart sound frequencies that correspond to the opening and closing of the heart valves. Using these sounds, the thing can detect potential disturbances that can indicate a risk for the most common valvular heart diseases.
Taking a test is easy. With the cuff slipping on the upper left arm it is positioned near the top of the arm over the bicep. The tube is positioned against the body, with the Withings logo level with the heart. Make sure you don’t wrap the cuff too tightly.
Switch BPM Core on and the cuff will guide you through the process. When I started testing the device, it would take one reading. After about a week of use, it transitioned to taking three consecutive readings with a short rest period in between them. This is actually widely recommended, so I’m not sure whether Withings updated the software or if I changed the settings somewhere. The rest period between the three readings can be set through customisation options in the smartphone app.
After the third reading you will be prompted by the LED matrix screen to rest at least one finger of your other hand against the stainless steel sensors on the tube for 20 seconds. This creates a closed circuit during which heart rhythms are tracked. You’ll actually be able to see the ECG curve displayed on the device screen. This is also when the digital stethoscope will do its thing.
The entire test only takes a couple of minutes before the results get displayed. Just as if at a doctor’s office —but at home.
For a quick glance at your results the LED matrix screen does a great job. You are able to see your blood pressure results categorised as normal, elevated, high (stage 1), high (stage 2), and “hypertensive crisis” where emergency care would be needed. As mentioned, those are colour coded into green, yellow and red where appropriate. You can also see your ECG.
As far as accuracy goes, BPM Core is a medical device and has been certified by major health organisations. So no worries there.
The Health Mate App (or the website dashboard) is the place to go to for digital stethoscope results and more details and trends on your other readings. This is the same app Withings uses for its other smart devices, so if you own its smart scale or smartwatch all your vitals stats will be shown in one place.
The timeline in the app shows your blood pressure reading, along with the ECG and heart sounds info. Tap on any metric for a more detailed view. You can display weekly and monthly trends. There’s also an option to share results with your doctor and an option to automatically sync with Apple Health.
My results were slightly elevated on most days. Might be time to think about cutting down on the salt in my diet…
The ECG screen displays your heart rate and lets you know if your sinus rhythm is normal. It also allows you to play back a recording of your ECG.
The device focuses on detecting signs of atrial fibrillation and for testing purposes, I strapped BPM core on a person with the condition. As shown below BPM Core correctly identified a problem.
Finally, the heart sounds section lets you know if there are any signs of valvular heart disease (VHD). Withings says BPM Core is able to detect three main VHD: aortic stenosis, aortic regurgitation and mistrial regurgitation.
You will need to take at least five readings for the first result to be shown. Once again, you can play back a 20 second recording. In this case you’ll actually hear rather than see, the activity of your heart. At times I would get an “Inconclusive” result but in most cases the stethoscope was able to obtain readings of sufficient quality to display a result.
Withings BPM Core is in a class of its own as far as smart blood pressure monitors go. A pioneer in this area, the French outfit has taken heart health tracking up a notch once again and given the competition something to aim for.
The device is simple to use, convenient and provides a wealth of useful information. It allows for medically accurate monitoring of hypertension, atrial fibrillation and better management of valvular heart disease. Readings are presented instantly on the built-in LCD matrix screen and in much more detail in the accompanying smartphone app. The Wi-Fi sync means you don’t need your phone nearby.
Withings BPM Core
The convenience of having a 3 in 1 device cannot be overstated. It actually makes the mundane process of taking blood pressure readings interesting. A cardiovascular checkup in the space of a few minutes and all in the comfort of your home!
In my view BMP Core easily takes the crown as the best blood pressure monitor you can purchase today. If you live in Europe you’re in luck as the device can be purchased now. Those living in the US will need to wait a bit longer as Withings is in final stages of obtaining FDA approval.
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