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60-Second Health

Accurate Blood Pressure Needs Multiple Measurements

Many blood pressure assessments rely on too few measurements in an intimidating environment. Katherine Harmon reports

There's nothing relaxing about sitting in a doctor's examining room, being poked and prodded while you’re wearing a stiff paper gown and a pair of socks that suddenly feel super awkward.

In fact, these routine checkups can give people with normal blood pressure what’s called "White coat syndrome," temporary high blood pressure brought on by the health care providers themselves. When that cold stethoscope hits the skin and the blood pressure cuff starts tightening around the bicep people may get a little anxious.

The rise in blood pressure can lead doctors to think a patient has chronic hypertension. And a new study finds that for two thirds of adults with verified high blood pressure, a single BP measurement was not reliable. The research is in the Annals of Internal Medicine. [Benjamin Powers et al., "Measuring Blood Pressure for Decision Making and Quality Reporting: Where and How Many Measures?"]

With most doctors taking just one or two readings, many people are likely being over-treated for hypertension. A more reliable method is to average several blood pressure measurements taken in the office, or at home—assuming you’re not being poked and prodded there, too.

—Katherine Harmon

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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