High blood pressure is a global health tragedy.

It is one of the largest public health epidemics in the world and affects over one billion people according to the World Health Organization – a number that has more than doubled over the last 40 years and is estimated to grow to 1.5 billion by the year 2025. This is a massive problem with 1 in 7 people in the world affected by hypertension. High blood pressure presents significant risk factors for stroke, heart failure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, and kidney disease.

Over 10.4 million deaths were directly attributed to the issue in 2017 in the United States alone. As Ranndy Kellogg, Omron CEO and American Heart Association board member, points out in the webinar below, 1 in every 2 adults in the US is in the hypertensive range. This means even if you are not in that range, your friends, family members, or neighbors likely are.

The costs associated with high blood pressure, and the comorbidities affiliated with it, are astonishing. Around the world, the cost tops 1 trillion dollars. 

Additionally, hypertension is the single biggest risk factor for all global disease. It ranks above smoking, high blood sugar and high BMI. There are no outward, visible signs or symptoms as a person moves towards hypertension and for this reason, it is often called the “silent killer.”

On average, blood pressure fluctuates at various times throughout the day. Many factors can affect your blood pressure such as time of day, food and drink consumption, exercise, temperature, medications, family history, stress, sleep and more. This is important to consider when monitoring or measuring blood pressure.

Age is another major factor to acknowledge. In general, blood pressure rises as we age. However, lifestyle choices do have a big influence on the rate of change.

Challenges in Addressing Global Hypertension 

Globally, only 1 of every 7 people has their hypertension under control. The numbers here are significant – millions are affected and yet, unaware. Awareness of the problem, or the path towards a problem, could have a huge impact on overall public health.

Tracking blood pressure takes time. The traditional methods require getting a blood pressure cuff, learning how to use it, following the proper guidelines, and keeping a journal of the readings. Many people don’t know that in order to get a proper blood pressure reading, you need to be sitting still for 5 minutes and in the correct recommended position. According to the American Heart Association, measurements should be taken at the same time every day and not within 30 minutes of smoking, drinking caffeine or exercising. It is also important to take multiple readings each time you measure and record the results to understand how the readings are trending.

Opportunities to Address Global Hypertension

Monitoring blood pressure is the first step toward improving it, but it remains challenging to consistently monitor blood pressure in ways that don’t disrupt people’s lives. There are numerous options to address some of those challenges through wearable technology and devices, from watches to earbuds to clothing and more.

Beyond the expansion of new tools to measure blood pressure, we are moving towards more longitudinal monitoring “in the background” over time versus the previous single, point-in-time measurements taken at your doctor’s office or elsewhere. This provides contextual information on what causes changes in blood pressure over time and can enable early indicators to change behaviors that cause those changes.

Mobile devices, voice assistants, and other tools we utilize in our daily lives can help us capture the information being tracked and better manage it. The devices can also provide actionable information from the data and meaningful feedback to the user. This helps weave blood pressure monitoring into everyday life and makes the information easier to manage and share. Personalized insights based on the longitudinal and contextual data help facilitate focused dialogue and solutions with doctors and care providers.

The Future

Calibration-free blood pressure technologies are advancing rapidly.

We’re seeing a tremendous amount of work going on in this area and in the marketplace as a whole. In this diagram, you see FDA cleared devices like arterial lines and manual and automated cuffs that are the gold standard of blood pressure monitoring. Unfortunately, they are not very comfortable or wearable.

Also pictured is the Omron Heartguide, a clinically accurate, wearable blood pressure monitor in a wristwatch form factor  The solutions here are pictured from left to right in order of technology maturity.

More experimental technologies continue to emerge. Optical PPG-only blood pressure monitoring, Valencell’s area of expertise, and pulse transit time monitors are market-ready. Some other newer technologies are also gaining attention, like the ability to estimate blood pressure using smartphone video to identify variation in blood flow in the face, but there is much work to be done and more data to be collected to move this technology forward and make it commercially viable.

For more information, please check out the webinar below and do not hesitate to reach out with any questions.