Often when you go to your doctor you end up having your blood pressure taken. Your blood pressure is one of those vague things where your doctor gives you a series of numbers and is either happy or concerned. Sometimes your doctor is so concerned he will give you medication for it. I commonly ask patients if they understand blood pressure and why they are on medication for it and many people do not really understand the concept. So allow me to give you an explanation.
Imagine you have a series of pipes in the body along which blood is pumped by the heart. When the heart squeezes the pressure reaches a maximum number (the top number on your blood pressure reading) and when the heart relaxes the pressure drops to a minimum number (the bottom number on your blood pressure reading). This maximum and minimum number change with time and activity, so things like exercise and stress can increase your blood pressure (both maximum and minimum numbers).
The key point is if the pressure is too high for too long, the pipes burst. If this happens in the brain, you have a stroke, if in the kidneys, you can have kidney damage or if in the eyes can lead to eye problems. By monitoring your blood pressure we can prevent a problem from happening by reducing your blood pressure before it gets into the danger zone.
The problem for us as doctors is that it is stressful when you as a patient come to see us and so your blood pressure is artificially high. As a result we do not make any decisions on blood pressure unless it is taken on 3 separate occasions and abnormal. From the patients point of view you have to keep on coming back to see us time and again.
I often tell my patients to purchase a blood pressure machine - this is not new technology but is certainly useful. Measure your blood pressure when you are at home and relaxed over a period of time and bring those readings in to show me. This is often a truer reflection of your current blood pressure and makes an efficient assessment possible by your doctor.
Current products on the market offer a sleek appearance, portability and connection to your phone. As long as it is clinical grade and calibrated, it is good enough for me, (decisions on design etc, I will leave to you!) These products if used on a regular basis can identify issues before they become a problem.
The real game changer however will be the device that is small, wearable, accurate and most importantly continuous. If we can track you blood pressure on a continuous basis then we will truly have an accurate insight into your health. We are not there yet but when this happens, I do believe those who embrace this type of monitoring will be able to offset a really common cause of ill health.
Blog post written by Dr Khurram Akhter.
Khurram is an experienced primary care physician and a thought leader
in the field of digital health.