Device 'could revolutionise blood pressure monitoring'

Image caption,
A sensor in the watch records the pulse wave of the artery

A device which can be worn like a watch could revolutionise the way blood pressure is monitored in the next few years, scientists say.

Researchers at the University of Leicester and in Singapore have developed a device to measure pressure in the largest artery in the body.

Evidence shows it gives a much more accurate reading than the arm cuff.

The technology is funded by the Department of Health and backed by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

It works by a sensor in the watch recording the pulse wave of the artery, which is then fed into a computer together with a traditional blood pressure reading from a cuff.

Scientists are then able to read the pressure close to the heart, from the aorta.

Professor Bryan Williams, from the University of Leicester's department of cardiovascular sciences at Glenfield Hospital, said: "The aorta is millimetres away from the heart and close to the brain and we have always known that pressure here is a bit lower than in the arm.

"Unless we measure the pressure in the aorta we are not getting an appreciation of the risks or benefits of treatment."

He said the device would "change the way blood pressure has been monitored for more than a century" and he expected the technology to be used in specialist centres soon, before being "used much more widely" within five years.

"The beauty of all of this is that it is difficult to argue against the proposition that the pressure near to your heart and brain is likely to be more relevant to your risk of stroke and heart disease than the pressure in your arm," he said.

But it was important to ensure the new device was as small as possible to encourage clinicians and patients to use it, he added.

The research work was funded by the Department of Health's National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The NIHR invested £3.4m, with a further £2.2m of funding coming from the Department of Health, to establish a Biomedical Research Unit at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester.

Image caption,
The traditional blood pressure cuff on the upper arm is known not to give a completely accurate reading

The university collaborated with the Singapore-based medical device company HealthSTATS International.

Dr Choon Meng Ting, chairman of HealthSTATS, said: "This study has resulted in a very significant translational impact worldwide as it will empower doctors and their patients to monitor their central aortic systolic pressure easily, even in their homes and modify the course of treatment for blood pressure-related ailments."

Mr Lansley said the device was "a great example of how research breakthroughs and innovation can make a real difference to patients' lives".

Judy O'Sullivan, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said previous research had shown that measuring pressure close to the heart was a better indicator of the effectiveness of treatment for high blood pressure than the standard method.

"However, further research is needed before we can be certain of its superiority in the doctor's surgery," she said.

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