By Dr Joe
Are you considering getting one of these fancy wrist blood pressure monitors for yourself? Or may be you have one already and you are wondering if you have made the right decision.
Well, you have come to the right place because we shall be discussing wrist blood pressure pros and cons here on this page.
Are wrist blood pressure monitors any good? Do wrist blood pressure monitors provide accurate blood pressure readings? Are wrist blood pressure monitors reliable?
I shall be providing answers to these questions right here.
What are the pros and cons of wrist blood pressure monitors?
Sadly, I want to start with the cons of wrist blood pressure monitors. I apologize for this because it is never a good idea to begin a journey on a negative note.
Always start with the positives; my mother always told me when I was younger.
But I am constrained to do disobey my mother in this instance, because I want to tell my story of my first romance with these wrist blood pressure monitors.
Wrist blood pressure monitor cons
And my story unfortunately does not lead to pros of wrist BP monitors but rather to the cons of wrist blood pressure monitors.
I am a sucker for innovation and innovative products. I needed to say this upfront as that’s how my relationship with these wrist blood pressure monitors started.
A couple of years ago, I saw a full-page newspaper ad on a brand of wrist blood pressure monitor. I was enthralled by the ad. Mainly because the focus of the ad was the simplicity of using this blood pressure machine. I was sold. In an instant.
I must admit at the time I had not heard of these wrist blood pressure monitors, so my curiousity was piqued. Really piqued. I went past curiousity and made a purchase straightaway.
I felt such an innovative product was something I needed in my life. I should say that I am a medical doctor and also someone who suffers from high blood pressure too. Therefore my need for the product was a match made in heaven.
In any case what’s the point of having your curiousity aroused by an innovative product and not do the follow through business – make the purchase, that is. Call it impulsive buying and you’ll be right.
I should also say that up until that point, I had not heard of wrist blood pressure monitors. They were not available in the hospital environment that I work at the time and still aren’t. I shall come to this point again later on…
Anyway, the product arrived a couple of days later and I was so keen to use it, I unboxed it straightaway.
Off I went, slammed it on my left wrist, pushed the button to inflate the cuff and measure my blood pressure. Oops…I got a ridiculously high reading. I sat back, rested a while, breathed deeply, tried another reading. Same high reading.
Tried wrist number 2 – same high reading.
Called the retailer who requested I send it back for exhange as that may be a faulty item. New wrist blood pressure monitor arrived days later. Same outcome.
Now, how do I know the wrist blood pressure monitor was the issue and not my blood pressure hitting the roof at 240/135 mmHg for instance? Well, that’s because I have an older upper arm monitor that I had been using reliably in the house.
I double-checked with that upper arm monitor and my blood pressure was perefctly normal at the same time the wrist blood pressure monitor was giving me ridiculously high blood pressure readings.
As stated in the video below, I tried some other brands of the wrist blood pressure monitors and I wasn’t impressed.
As you can tell from the above story, reliability and accuracy are big cons of the wrist blood pressure monitors.
The problem with accuracy and reliability are one big disadvantage of wrist blood pressure monitors that I find difficult to overlook.
One of the reasons wrist blood pressure monitors give higher readings that are not reflective of your true blood pressure is the artery who’s pressure is being measured.
Wrist blood pressure monitors take the blood pressure readings from the Radial artery unlike the upper arm monitors that measure the pressure in the Brachial artery.
The radial artery is narrower and more superficial compared to the brachial artery that is deeper and larger. If you remember your physics from secondary school, you will understand why the pressure in a smaller vessel will be higher than a bigger vessel.
Another problem with wrist blood pressure monitors is the placement of the blood pressure cuff. Ideally when measuring your blood pressure at home, we advise you to place the cuffed area at the level of the heart when the blood pressure measurement is taking place. This is actually the same advice offered by the American College of Cardiology too.
With the wrist monitors, the wrist where the cuff will be wrapped is not naturally at the level of the heart. Achieving that objective of having the cuffed wrist at the level of the heart makes for some awkward positioning.
This is very much unlike the upper arm monitors where the upper arm is almost at the level of the heart. Your arm only requires a little elevation.
Summary of the cons of wrist blood pressure monitors:
- Difficulty positioning the cuffed wrist at the level of the heart
- Readings very sensitive to positioning
- Smaller blood vessel pressure being measured
- Gives inaccurate readings most of the time
- Reliable readings are few and far between
- Therefore cannot be trusted as a home blood pressure monitoring kit
See also: how dehydration affects blood pressure.
Pros of wrist blood pressure monitors
That said, it’s not all bad news with the wrist blood pressure monitors. They do have some advantages. May be it wasn’t a bad idea after all, that I started with the cons whilst tackling this subject of the wrist blood pressure pros and cons.
Saving the good news for last…
Anyway in the interest of a good balance of facts and without bias, here are the advantages of the wrist blood pressure monitors:
Wrist blood pressure monitors are small, therefore very easy to carry around. You can easily shove them in your handbag, briefcase and off you go. So, quite suitable for On-The-Go ambulatory blood pressure measurement.
Meaning they are very portable because they are small and lightweight.
They require very little dexterity to use them. You hardly need any handiwork to use the wrist blood pressure monitors. If you can wear a wrist watch, you can use the wrist blood pressure monitors.
Just like the upper arm nonitors, the wrist blood pressure monitors will provide both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings. This is nice because you want both.
Cuff size is usually not a problem with wrist blood pressure monitors. Because wrist sizes do not vary much, so you shouldn’t have an issue with cuff being too small or too big. Therefore suitable for those with big arms, although you can shop for bigger cuff for upper arm monitors too.
Practically all wrist blood pressure monitors are automatic as opposed to having to choose between manual and automatic. Meaning there’s very little learning curve involved.
This also translates to being very easy to use.
Summary of pros of wrist blood pressure monitors:
- Small in size
- Easy to use
- Provides dual readings of systolic and distolic Blood pressure
- Cuff size not usually a problem
- Quite comfortable to wear and use
- Little or no dexterity involved to get a blood pressure reading
- Usually automated so little learning required
Wrist blood pressure monitors Vs Upper Arm Monitors: Which should I buy?
Those are the wrist blood pressure monitor pros and cons. Now, if you ask me which of these monitors to buy for your home use, my professional advice will be to go for the upper arm blood pressure monitors. Sounds crazy, right? After everything I’ve said…
See video below
As far as I am concerned, even though the wrist blood ressure monitors do have some really good advantages over the upper arm monitors, the one disadvantage I cannot get over is unreliability.
If you are going to monitor your blood pressure at home, you want something reliable. You want a blood pressure kit that gives you accurate readings that you can take to your doctor. Readings your doctor can trust.
Doctors don’t want to make decisions on blood pressure readings that are sketchy and probably accurate 25% of the time. Not even 75% of the time. We want to make decisions on readings that are accurate 99.99% of the time.
Why is this?
Doctors don’t want to make the wrong management decisions. Wrong readings lead to wrong decisions. That’s not the basis for a sound high blood pressure (hypertension) management.
Like I said in the video, given the fact that these wrist BP monitors have been around for a long time now, and are very easy to use, how come we don’t use them in hospital settings?
Your guess is as good as mine. I rest my case!
Suggested further reading:
The Extreme Health Dangers of Excess Abdominal Fat