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Doctors debate merits of blood pressure gauges

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
October 20, 2002
Dr. Olu Ransome-Kuti sees many patients with high blood pressure in his job as an internist with the Greater Meridian Health Clinic.
Normal blood pressure falls within a specific range. In order to treat high blood pressure properly, he said, health care professionals must have accurate blood pressure readings.
The medical community is paying closer attention to the accuracy of blood pressure readings and patients are advised to do the same as hospitals and clinics switch to new testing devices that some say are less reliable than older, standard equipment.
Out with the old
Throughout the nation, hospitals are moving toward a mercury-free environment to comply with a 1998 federal waste reduction standard.
Dr. Daniel W. Jones, a high blood pressure spokesman for the American Heart Association, said new devices to measure blood pressure are not as reliable as devices with mercury-gauged arm cuffs.
Jones said mercury-gauged arm cuff units are known for trouble-free readings. But they are gradually being replaced with what he says are "less-reliable" aneroid (with a dial reading) or "least-reliable" electronic (with a digital reading) arm cuff units.
He said the new models are more apt to become inaccurate with prolonged use or if dropped or bumped. He said hospitals must be vigilant in verifying readings with the new models.
Taking precautions
Pam Tvarkunas, director of nursing for Riley Hospital, said maintenance of the new devices is a top priority at Riley.
She added that training for people who take the readings should be emphasized.
Officials at Jeff Anderson Regional Medical Center said the hospital plans to replace its mercury-gauged blood pressure equipment and that it will be monitored regularly.
Officials at Rush Foundation Hospital did not respond to questions about their plans.
Pros and cons
Dr. Margaret Morrison, health officer with the state Department of Health, said all equipment has pros and cons. One advantage she sees with digital blood pressure testing devices are their built-in stethoscopes.
Health officials say hypertensive patients should check their blood pressure at least three times a week.
If they check their pressure at home, health officials say, they should do so at the same time every day. If their readings are off, people should take their testing device to their doctor.
It is also recommended that people take the device to their physician's office annually to verify readings with a professionally maintained model.
Ransome-Kuti said about 20 percent of his hypertensive patients check their blood pressure at home, mostly with digital devices. He said some people have higher readings in his office because of "white coat syndrome."