Inaccurate Blood Pressure Readings
June 19, 2021
Current estimates suggest that there are more than 120 millions adults living with high blood pressure in the United States. High blood pressure (or hypertension) comes with a slew of unique risk factors and potential medical complications, such as heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure can develop with little-to-no symptoms, which is why it is important that people undergo regular blood pressure readings to draw attention to potential problems.
High Blood Pressure: Common Symptoms and Complications
Blood pressure readings measure how hard blood pushes against the walls of the arteries as it travels through the body. Symptoms of high blood pressure (if a person experiences any) can include shortness of breath, flushing, dizziness, nosebleeds, visual changes, blood in the urine, chest pain, and headaches. When the blood puts too much pressure on the arterial walls, it can lead to major medical complications such as:
- Heart failure
- Heart attack
- Kidney disease
- Vascular dementia
- Aortic aneurysms
- Peripheral arterial disease
Compounding the high blood pressure issue even more is that each day, fewer and fewer Americans have their readings under control. All in all, research indicates that high blood pressure is a growing dilemma nationwide. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), an increase in high blood pressure readings are not the only cause for worry; the organization also observed a concerning link between inaccurate blood pressure measurements and heightened adverse medical and health outcomes in patients. This is why the AMA recently initiated its new effort aimed at reducing blood pressure measurement error rates: not only to promote a critical industry-wide standard but also to protect patients from preventable medical mistakes that result in injury and loss of life.
Blood pressure measurements are what the AMA refers to as “common procedures,” meaning that medical professionals conduct them on patients regularly. But just because nurses, doctors, techs, and other healthcare workers perform blood pressure testing regularly does not mean the results are always accurate. In fact, according to a study conducted by an independent body of medical experts in the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, approximately 15% to 30% of people who have high blood pressure readings at their routine clinic appointments have lower readings outside of that setting. There are several factors that can affect elevated blood pressure readings at routine clinic appointments, like rushing to get to the appointment. But in some cases, elevated readings are simply the result of medical professionals making mistakes.
How to Ensure a Correct Blood Pressure Reading and What the Results Mean
Because of potentially serious medical complications, getting diagnosed with high blood pressure can be a frightening experience for patients. According to Harvard Health, there are a few key factors that help to ensure a correct blood pressure reading at home or in a healthcare setting. They are:
- Sit quietly for five minutes before beginning the test
- Do not drink a caffeinated beverage or smoke tobacco products for 30 minutes before a reading
- Do not talk during the measurement (unless you are feeling ill or need to report a concern)
- Make sure that the inflatable part of the cuff is completely covering at least 80% of the upper arm. The cuff should also be placed on bare, not covered, skin
- Have your blood pressure measured twice with a short break in between. If your readings vary by five points or more, get a third reading
Generally speaking, current healthcare standards dictate that doctors should recheck most patients with normal blood pressure readings (less than 120/80 mm Hg) once a year. Doctors should recheck patients that are pre-hypertensive (between 120/80 and 139/89 mm Hg) within four-to-six months, patients with readings between 140/90 to 159/99 within four weeks, and patients with readings between 160/100 and 179/109 mm Hg within two weeks. While being over 40-years-old is a universal risk factor for high blood pressure, other people face higher risks for developing hypertension as well. Here are just a few examples:
- People who are obese or overweight
- People who drink large amounts of alcohol
- People who are not physically active enough
- African Americans
- People who do not maintain a healthy diet
- People with a family history of high blood pressure
Medical professionals need to know the risk factors for hypertension as well as how to properly conduct testing on patients. According to the AMA’s initiative, research has highlighted a decline in medical students’ blood pressure measurement skills in the months that follow their initial training. Additionally, many medical schools fail to even offer refresher courses to students or practicing professionals in the field. Yet another issue the AMA cites is the overall absence of a standardized curriculum on evidence-based blood pressure measurement techniques, all of which act together to render patients vulnerable to receiving different readings – and therefore potentially vastly different results – at visits.
Victims of Medical Malpractice
The difference between an unavoidable medical mistake and medical malpractice is that medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, hospital, or other healthcare provider fails to follow accepted standards and causes injury or death to a patient as a result. For example, if a provider receives elevated blood pressure readings from a patient but fails to establish a follow-up or treatment plan or fails to diagnose the patient with hypertension and the patient experiences preventable complications, it may be medical malpractice. If you believe you were a victim of medical malpractice, an attorney at our firm can help. If you would like to learn more, contact a representative online now.
Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Representing Victims of Medical Negligence Since 1947
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