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Release Date: 08/04/2008

Ratings of Blood Pressure Monitors and Blood Glucose Meters Have Differences

How to choose the right self-test kit

CR September '08 Cover YONKERS, NY — According to the September issue of Consumer Reports, there are big differences in accuracy and consistency among self-monitoring kits for hypertension and diabetes.  The report, also available online at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org suggests that relying on the readings of an inaccurate model could lead to inadequate care.

Seventy-three million U.S. adults have high blood pressure and 24 million have diabetes.  Of those populations, an estimated 65 percent do not have their high blood pressure under control and 44 percent do not have their diabetes under control.  

Blood Pressure Monitors

High blood pressure is defined as a systolic (when the heart contracts) pressure of at least 140 millimeters of mercury or a diastolic (when the heart relaxes in between heartbeats) pressure of at least 90 millimeters of mercury recorded on at least two separate office visits, explained Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., chief medical adviser at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.  “Doctors today often recommend at-home monitoring to determine whether the condition is under control.  But it’s critical to find an accurate monitor,” said Dr. Lipman, a practicing physician, board certified in internal medicine and endocrinology.  

In May 2008, the American Heart Association and other medical groups announced in a statement that people with hypertension or suspected high blood pressure should routinely self-monitor.   “At home testing can also be helpful to people who experience ‘white-coat hypertension,’ a spike in blood pressure that occurs only in the doctor’s office,” added Dr. Lipman. 

To evaluate 16 different blood pressure monitors, CR obtained approximately 6,000 readings from 57 men and women and compared the results of the home monitors with those obtained by pairs of trained medical technicians who used a mercury sphygmomanometer, the standard instrument for recording accurate blood pressure readings.

Quick Picks: Top Blood Pressure Monitors

The CR tests included measurements of the models’ accuracy, and scores by panels of people who rated the devices’ ease of use and commented on various features.  Consumer Reports found that four upper arm cuff blood pressure monitors were more accurate, overall, than wrist monitors.  All four of the “excellent” rated automatic upper arm-type blood pressure monitors provide accurate blood pressure readings in  about  30 seconds and can also detect an irregular heartbeat.

  • Omron Women’s Advanced Elite 7300W ($100)
  • CVS by Microlife Deluxe Advanced 344534 ($100)
  • Omron HEM-711AC ($90)
  • ReliOn HEM-741CREL (Wal-Mart), a CR Best Buy at $40. 

Although the Omron Women’s Advanced is marketed to women, it included a large size cuff and can also be used by men. The ReliOn is comfortable and has multiple user memories, but if a large cuff is needed, it must be purchased separately for about $10. The CVS also has multiple user memories, plus a blood pressure risk category indicator, and large and extra-large cuffs. The Omron HEM-711AC lacks those extras.

Blood Glucose Meters

With type 1 diabetes, the body loses its ability to make insulin, the hormone that helps convert sugar and other food into energy.  With type 2 diabetes, the body makes relatively too little insulin and is also resistant to it.

“Blood glucose monitoring at home can help many diabetics maintain optimal sugar levels by allowing more frequent insulin adjustments and  medication changes than just waiting for routine office visits,” said Orly Avitzur, M.D., medical adviser at Consumers Union and a practicing neurologist.  “Choosing a meter that provides accurate and consistent readings is essential for many people with diabetes who need daily insulin injections,” added Dr. Avitzur. Inaccurate or inconsistent test results could possibly lead to too much or too little treatment including dangerously low blood sugar levels.

Quick Picks: Best Blood Glucose Meters

To test blood glucose meters’ accuracy and consistency, CR contracted with an outside laboratory to test 13 devices against a standard laboratory test using blood samples from diabetic volunteers. To test the meters’ ease of use, CR engaged lay and expert panelists with diabetes to use and score each glucose monitor for size, speed, memory, and whether test strips required users to enter codes before testing.

  • OneTouch
UltraMini ($20, $1.14 per strip)
  • Ascensia Contour ($80, $1.10 per strip)
  • ReliOn Ultima (Wal-Mart), a CR Best Buy ($9, $0.44 per strip) 
  • Accu-Chek Compact Plus ($73, $1.10 per strip)

    While the OneTouch was the only blood glucose meter receiving an excellent rating overall, the Ascensia and Accu-Chek were rated very good choices as was the ReliOn.  All four models delivered readings in about 5 seconds. The Ascensia and the ReliOn can store hundreds more glucose readings than the OneTouch and upload them to a computer. (A newer version of the OneTouch that is just being introduced to the market is said to have additional memory and uploading capability.) The Ascensia and Accu-Chek models automatically code test strips.

  • How to Choose a Self-Test Kit

    • Use our Ratings.  Pick a top-scoring model that has features that will make testing easier, such as a blood pressure monitor’s ability for more than one user to store readings.
    • Consider cost.  Sometimes blood pressure and blood glucose monitors can be purchased at a discount.  Glucose test strips can cost as much as $1,400 a year if testing three times a day, so be sure to consider their cost when buying a meter.  Insurance does not usually cover blood pressure monitors, but might cover the cost of blood glucose meters and supplies.
    • Check the fit.  Make sure the blood pressure monitor has a cuff that fits your upper arm.

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