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KSBY News Investigates: How accurate are in-store or at-home blood pressure monitors?

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In today's Healthy Living, we're taking a look at the accuracy blood pressure monitors.

Can they detect hypertension? Should they replace a manual reading from your doctor? What about at-home machines?

Take Dennis Wizemann, for example. He thought he had his blood pressure under control. He checked it regularly and noticed no problems. He has a monitor at home and sometimes uses the machines in the store.

"I'll usually try them out, just for fun just to see where they're at, see where my blood pressure it at," he said, adding some readings were accurate, some varied. "I think, overall, they're better than nothing, I don't know that they're totally accurate."

Neither do some healthcare providers.

"So my concern would be, if a person with hypertension goes to the drug store and gets a false low reading, they might go on their merry way and think they're fine," said Janet Spagna, a nurse practitioner at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center.

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is a silent killer because there are no symptoms. Left untreated, high blood pressure can cause heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, kidney damage, vision loss and even death.

A normal reading is 120 over 80 (120/80), and it's not to say in-store or at-home machines always give inaccurate readings.

KSBY News Anchor Carina Corral tried them out at three different stores on three different machines. She then took the results to Spagna to compare.

"97/62, so you can see they're very similar to the reading I got, but then again you don't have hypertension," said Spagna.

She said to avoid a false reading you should:

  • Be seated up right with legs uncrossed
  • Make sure the cuff fits your arm correctly
  • Rest five minutes and do not have coffee or cigarettes beforehand
  • Make sure the machines are properly maintained

"In all honesty, we don't know how often the stores test them or recalibrate them. We don't know how many kids are playing around with them," said Spagna.

Even home machines aren't fail-safe. Dennis had been checking his readings at home with seemingly good results.

"I thought I was doing really well until I came in Monday and, uh, she checked my blood pressure and she said it was high," said Dennis.

Spagna had a request:

"I asked Dennis to bring his cuff to the office and we saw that his cuff was giving him unrealistically low readings."

He's now on medication and his blood pressure is under control, but had it gone unnoticed.

"To live your life with undiagnosed hypertension could be a dangerous thing," said Spagna.

Spagna said people should get checked once or twice a year by a primary provider, especially those over 50 years old.

KSBY reached out to CVS and Rite Aid for comment.

CVS' statement, in part, reads: "Our blood pressure monitors are not diagnostic devices and while these monitors have an auto-calibration feature, automated screenings should not be considered a replacement for a physical examination by a health care professional."

Rite Aid's statement, in part, reads: "These stations are meant to be a resource for our customers and do not in any way take the place of a doctor."

Walgreens has removed the machines out of its stores, telling KSBY they were too costly to maintain and would prefer customers get their readings from a pharmacist.

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