Everyone with high blood pressure - some 72 million Americans - should own a home monitor and do regular pressure checks, the American Heart Association and other groups urged Thursday in an unprecedented endorsement of a medical device for consumers.
High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes and death. Having it checked a few times a year in a doctor's office or at the drugstore is not enough to keep tabs on it, and regular home monitoring is more accurate, the new advice says.
Closer checks would let doctors fine-tune the many medicines used to control high blood pressure, just as diabetics adjust their insulin levels by regularly monitoring blood sugar. Only a third of people with high blood pressure now have it under control.
"We need new approaches. Our current approach is simply not working," said Dr. David Goff, a preventive medicine specialist at Wake Forest University and a member of the panel that wrote the advice.
Outside experts strongly agreed. But some said the case would be more compelling if those pushing the monitors had no industry ties. For example, a leading device maker pays more than $300,000 a year to co-sponsor the heart association's blood pressure Web site. The company played no role in the new advice, the association said.
"This is not as clean a recommendation as it could be" because of the industry ties, said Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the consumer group Public Citizen. Still, home monitors are "an excellent idea," Wolfe said.
They cost $50 to $100 on the Internet and at pharmacies. Insurance usually doesn't pay, though the heart groups say it should.
The heart association, the American Society of Hypertension and the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses' Association all urged home monitoring in a statement published online Thursday in the journal Hypertension, the medical word for high blood pressure.
The condition occurs when blood pulses too forcefully through vessels, which can damage the heart, kidneys and other organs. It is more common as people age, and it leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.
Readings of 140 over 90 are considered high at the doctor's office; 135 over 85 if taken at home. Pressure often goes up with the "white coat" effect, nervousness when seeing a doctor. Readings also vary throughout the day.