Blood Pressure Kiosks Often Inaccurate, FDA Says

Right cuff size is key, but kiosks are one-size-fits-all
Blood Pressure Results

Measuring blood pressure seems so simple that desk-like kiosks for checking blood pressure have popped up everywhere – including pharmacies, grocery stores, gyms, airports, hair salons and even cafeterias.

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But several important factors go into a proper blood pressure reading.  That is why the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued an advisory about these self-serve kiosks. They may be accessible and easy to use, but they often don’t provide accurate information. 

Correct cuff size is a critical factor in measuring blood pressure, the FDA says. In a clinic or a medical office, health care providers use cuffs of various sizes to ensure the reading is accurate. For example, a toddler’s blood pressure is checked with an extra-small children’s cuff, while a football lineman’s arm may require an extra-large adult cuff.

One size fits all

Each kiosk, however, has a single, fixed-size cuff, with sizes that differ from kiosk to kiosk. As a result, you could get an inaccurate reading, unless the cuff happens to be your correct size.

Using a too-small cuff will result in an artificially high blood pressure reading. A cuff that is too large may result in an inaccurately low blood pressure reading – or not work at all.

Much goes into measuring blood pressure properly, says hypertension specialist George Thomas, MD. Dr. Thomas, who had no role in the FDA advisory, treats patients with high blood pressure at Cleveland Clinic.

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Important factors include how someone uses the device, proper placement on the arm or even how the person being measured is sitting, Dr. Thomas says.

“You should be seated. Your back should be supported. Your legs should be on the ground and uncrossed. Your arm should be extended at heart level and you should use a blood pressure machine with a properly fitting arm cuff that goes completely around the arm,” Dr. Thomas says.

Measurements over time

Blood pressure is an important indicator of cardiovascular health. High blood pressure – also called hypertension –  increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure and death. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk.

Hypertension affects nearly one in three adults in the United States. Hypertension has no symptoms and in most patients, is found only when a doctor checks their blood pressure.

It’s important to know that health care providers diagnose hypertension based on several blood pressure measurements taken over a period of time. This is why health care providers often depend on the patient’s own readings in addition to measurements taken at a doctor’s office.

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Taking your own reading

Although blood pressure kiosks have their limitations, they can provide valuable information when used properly and under a health care provider’s guidance, the FDA says.

Dr. Thomas recommends buying a monitor with a cuff that fits that you can use at home, and learning to use it properly.

“You can definitely go to your local pharmacy and get it checked,” Dr. Thomas says, “but it may not be as accurate.”

If you do get a high blood pressure reading at home, don’t hesitate to call your doctor to get a proper reading, Dr. Thomas says. 

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