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Blood pressure monitor helps detect atrial fibrillation

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed
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17th January 2013 - A new blood pressure measuring device that can also detect a dangerous heart condition has been backed by the health watchdog.

New guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) supports the use of the ‘WatchBP Home A’ device which can detect atrial fibrillation (AF) whilst blood pressure is being measured.

Atrial fibrillation

AF is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate. It is the most common heart rhythm disturbance and is a major cause of stroke if left untreated. It can lead to dizziness, shortness of breath and palpitations but some people have no symptoms and are unaware their heart rate is irregular.

The NICE recommendations note that using WatchBP Home A could increase the detection rate of atrial fibrillation, which would allow preventative treatment to be given to reduce the incidence of AF-related stroke.

WatchBP Home A

The new device is a blood pressure monitor which automatically detects pulse irregularity whilst it records blood pressure in the traditional way - using a cuff which fits around the upper arm. If the pulse rate is above a certain threshold then atrial fibrillation is likely to be present and an atrial fibrillation icon is displayed on a small unit which records the reading.

Those with suspected atrial fibrillation should then have an electrocardiogram (ECG) in line with other NICE guidelines.

Maureen Talbot, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, says in a press release: "This new device won’t replace electrocardiograms but any device that aids in earlier detection of atrial fibrillation should be welcomed.

"Atrial fibrillation is a potentially dangerous condition that affects roughly one in 100 people in the UK and can increase four-fold the risk of a stroke. With appropriate treatment that risk can be substantially reduced so early diagnosis is vital."

Professor Carole Longson, Director of the NICE Centre for Health Technology Evaluation, says in a media release:"The evidence considered by the independent Medical Technologies Advisory Committee (MTAC) indicates that the device can offer advantages in detecting atrial fibrillation opportunistically whilst measuring blood pressure, and that using the device in primary care could increase the detection rate of atrial fibrillation compared with taking the pulse by hand. This would allow preventative treatment to be considered to reduce the incidence of atrial fibrillation-related stroke.

"The guidance is not about screening for atrial fibrillation, but about the benefits that the device offers in helping to pick up atrial fibrillation by chance in people with suspected high blood pressure or those being screened for high blood pressure, in primary care."

Reviewed on January 17, 2013

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