What is Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitoring?

Brandon A. Quick
Brandon A. Quick
Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

Something described as "ambulatory" is designed for use while moving or walking. Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring is no exception, allowing blood pressure monitoring to be performed throughout the course of a person's day instead of only in a seated or reclining position in a doctor's office. An ambulatory monitoring device takes frequent measurements throughout the day, providing a more accurate idea of a person's blood pressure. An ambulatory device typically takes blood pressure measurements every 20 to 30 minutes, even during sleep.

An ambulatory blood pressure monitoring is usually ordered by a doctor and consists of a small cuff and a machine roughly equal to the size of a transistor radio. While wearing an ambulatory device, patients can eat, sleep, talk, work, and otherwise engage in a full range of normal daily activities. Most patients are required to wear the device for 24 hours before returning it to a physician for detailed analysis.

One of the most common reasons for ambulatory blood pressure monitoring has arisen from the phenomenon known as "white coat hypertension." For many people, the anxiety of having their blood pressure monitored in a doctor's office causes skewed measurements. Thus, an ambulatory blood pressure device may be ordered to determine whether the high measurement is caused by nerves or a legitimate case of high blood pressure.

Round-the-clock monitoring has many benefits aside from relief of white coat hypertension. Doctors also may order ambulatory monitoring when someone has a borderline case of high blood pressure, when monitoring the effects of new medicines used to treat high blood pressure, if a patient complains of being dizzy or faint, and in chronic cases of high blood pressure. Blood pressure monitoring while a person sleeps also can provide a doctor with important information about how the patient's blood pressure reacts in different situations so the doctor will be able to tailor treatment to best address the problem.

While medical opinions on ideal blood pressure vary, most doctors prefer measurements lower than 135/85. If either number is consistently higher than this benchmark, the patient may be considered a good candidate for medication. The first number identifies systolic pressure and measures the force when the heart pumps. The second number measures diastolic pressure, or the force between heartbeats.

Causes of high blood pressure include poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, genetics, being overweight, tobacco use, excessive alcohol intake, and some prescription drugs. A variet of pharmaceutical companies manufacture a variety of blood pressure agents. In general, medication can be an effective tool for managing high blood pressure and preventing strokes and heart attacks.

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