When you visit your doctor, how does he take your blood pressure?
It’s a very important question, one that could mean the difference between a lifetime of risky blood pressure drugs…or not.
Researchers at the University of Montreal have just made a jaw-dropping discovery where blood pressure readings are concerned.
And it turns out that millions may have been told they have hypertension — when in fact they really don’t.
My doctor, and no doubt yours as well, always makes sure that taking my blood pressure is the first thing that’s done during an office visit.
But while I never really paid much attention to how that was accomplished (I usually just take a deep breath and try to relax!), it turns out the method used is of the utmost importance.
What these Canadian researchers recently discovered is that around 20 percent of people who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, and are then put on medications to lower it, don’t have hypertension at all.
With the CDC now saying that over 70 million Americans have high blood pressure, if these investigators hit the mark in their findings of how many are misdiagnosed, that would be around 14 million in the U.S. right there!
The mistakes are happening when doctors use the old-fashioned method of taking blood pressure — you know, with a manually inflated cuff and a stethoscope. It’s not that your doctor or nurse doesn’t know how to do it, but, according to the Canadian team, doing it accurately takes time.
“To take blood pressure the right way, a 12- to 15-minute period is required,” said Janusz Kaczorowsk, who led the research. Yet the average doctor visit, he pointed out, only lasts around 10 minutes!
Automated devices, while much more expensive for doctors to purchase, are also much more precise, as they take several readings in succession.
And if you think most docs would have switched over to this new equipment around the time they stopped making house calls, that’s not the case. Kaczorowsk and his team found that the automatic “oscillometric” devices were only being used by 43 percent of the Canadian doctors surveyed just last year.
Fifty-two percent said that they were still taking blood pressure readings using the old method.
Another advantage of using the oscillometric devices, according to the researchers, is that patients are less likely to suffer from “white-coat syndrome,” where your blood pressure soars simply because your doctor is taking it (more on that below).
So that brings us to the $64,000 question: What if your doc is one who still takes blood pressure readings the old-fashioned way? You certainly can’t insist he invest in a newer device.
But what you can do is be fully aware that if you’re told you have hypertension — especially if you’re given an Rx for a med to lower it — that it’s quite possible you really don’t.
And in that case, you’ll need to either arrange to have your blood pressure taken with an oscillometric device or ask your doctor about taking the time required to get a more accurate reading. (Remember, the researchers said that takes at least 15 minutes).
Which brings me to a recent finding where “white-coat syndrome” is concerned.
Another study, this one out of the Netherlands, found that by taking those automated readings over a 30-minute period, a significant number of patients were saved from either starting up on blood-pressure meds or having their doses upped.
By simply giving patients more time to relax, and taking the more accurate measurements, it looks like millions could be saved from taking these dangerous drugs in the first place.
And you might very well be one of them!
“Do you really have high blood pressure?” University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre, March 20, 2017, ScienceDaily, sciencedaily.com