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Classification of Sphygmomanometers Blood Pressure Measurement Devices recommended by the dabl Educational Trust Advisory Board Table of Currently available BP monitors Table of discontinued devices

Classification of Sphygmomanometers

Click on the index below for classification of blood pressure measuring devices according to the following schema (please note that for a list of currently available devices see our Device Index and for devices that have been discontinued see our Discontinued Devices Index).

Sphygmomanometers for Clinical Use


Manual Devices

These devices are used to measure blood pressure according to the original technique described by Riva Rocci and Korotkoff over a century ago. The measuring observer must be trained to use a stethoscope to auscultate the Korotkoff sounds over the brachial artery. This technique is usually referred to as conventional blood pressure measurement, or CBPM. Table


Mercury Sphygmomanometers

One model of the many mercury sphygmomanometers available, the PyMah (Pymah Corporation, Flemington, NJ), has been validated according to both protocols and is recommended. Because mercury sphygmomanometers generally adhere to a simple basic design with standard components, it is probably reasonable to assume that most, if not all, mercury sphygmomanometers would be of similar accuracy. The Hawksley sphygmomanometer, which is basically a mercury sphygmomanometer, has a zero-muddling feature to minimise observer bias, but its accuracy has been questioned. Table


Aneroid Sphygmomanometers

The standard aneroid sphygmomanometer has only been formally validated according to the calibration procedure of the BHS protocol, and the results support reservations about aneroid devices because of their susceptibility to becoming inaccurate with use without this being apparent to the user. Table


Non-mercury Manual Sphygmomanometers

If we accept that automated devices will in time replace the traditional mercury or aneroid sphygmomanometers and the stethoscope, all of which are necessary for measuring blood pressure according to the Riva-Rocci/Korotkoff method, then we must also prepare for the disappearance of the clinical technique to which we are so accustomed. Indeed, the influence of automated devices on this last measurement technique in clinical medicine is already apparent in the new generation of nurses and medical students. But might there not be more to the conventional auscultatory technique than meets the eye? The Riva-Rocci/Korotkoff technique may possess “that mystique peculiar to the clinical relationship, which is sensed by doctors and nurses and appreciated by patients.” Could it be this feature which makes clinicians so unhappy at having to relinquish the acquired skill inherent in the auscultatory technique, which for all its inaccuracies may possess subtle virtues “important in establishing the rapport from which a successful clinical relationship between doctor and patient may develop. This may or may not be the case, but it would seem reasonable to ask manufacturers of blood pressure measuring equipment to provide an electronic equivalent to the mercury column, so that the conventional auscultatory technique can live on. Indeed two such devices have been developed. These are the Greenlight 300 manufactured by AC Cossar & Sons, and the AccuSphyg. manufactured by Trimline. Table


Automated Devices for Clinical Use

Surprisingly manufacturers have been slow to produce automated sphygmomanometers for clinical use in hospitals to satisfy the large market that has arisen from the banning of mercury in some countries and the recommendation not to replace mercury sphygmomanometers in others, such as the UK and Ireland. There is evidence that the manufacturing industry is now aware of the need for an accurate automated device s to replace mercury sphygmomanometers. It is important that purchasing officers in the health services (whose responsibility it will be to order replacement automated devices for the traditional sphygmomanometer) are aware that protocols are in existence for validating blood pressure devices, and that evidence of independent validation should be demanded from manufacturers. Soundings from hospital authorities suggest that there is presently a tendency to substitute aneroid for mercury sphygmomanometers despite evidence that aneroid devices become inaccurate with use. Moreover, aneroid sphygmomanometry is prone to all the problems of the auscultatory technique, namely observer bias and terminal digit preference. Automated devices, by providing timed print-outs of blood pressure, remove these sources of error and thereby improve the overall accuracy of measurement, provided, of course, that they themselves are accurate. Table


Finger Devices for Clinical Measurement of Blood Pressure

Devices for measurement of blood pressure by occluding a digital artery in the finger are available, but because the problem of limb position is even more critical and because there is the additional problem of peripheral vasoconstriction affecting accuracy, this technique is not recommended. References to these devices may be found on the Library page. Table

Sphygmomanometers for Self-measurement of Blood Pressure (SBPM)

There are a large number of automated devices for self-measurement of blood pressure, virtually all of which use the oscillometric technique, and most of which have not been subjected to independent validation.


Upper Arm Devices for Self Measurement of Blood Pressure

Blood pressure measurement is most accurate when the inflatable cuff is placed over the brachial artery on the upper arm. Table


Wrist Devices for Self Measurement of Blood Pressure

In an effort to make blood pressure more convenient, devices that measure blood pressure by occluding the radial artery at the wrist have been developed so as to avoid the necessity of removing clothing. However, these devices have a number of disadvantages. They become inaccurate if the arm is not kept at heart level during measurement, and the position of the wrist during measurement may also influence the accuracy of the measurement. Because of these drawbacks there is reluctance to recommend them regardless of accuracy. The difficulty in attaining accurate measurements using this technique is evident from the fact that a validated device has only recently become available. It is important to remember that validation is a scientific process and all instructions are strictly followed. It is particularly vital, with these devices, that patients are aware that adherence to these instructions is critical as the position of the lower arm can greatly influence the reported measurement from a wrist device whereas it has no effect on that from an upper arm device. Table


Devices for Measuring Blood Pressure in the Community

There is little information available on the accuracy of automated devices that are installed in public retail areas, such as pharmacies, chain drug stores, mass merchandisers, supermarkets, health clinics, and companies in a variety of industries, permitting the public to measure blood pressure without charge in an unsupervised but crowded setting with high ambient noise. One such device, the Vita Stat 90550 has achieved conflicting results. References to these devices may be found on the Library page. Table

Sphygmomanometers for Ambulatory BP Measurement (ABPM)

There are two techniques for measuring ambulatory blood pressure (ABPM): the commonly used method of intermittent measurement of blood pressure over the 24-hour period, and the developing method of continuous waveform analysis.


Devices for ABPM

The greatest number of validation studies have been conducted on ABPM devices, which measure blood pressure intermittently over the 24-hour period. Many of these devices have been validated in special groups, such as the elderly and pregnant women, and in differing circumstances, such as during exercise and in various postures. Table


Devices for Continuous Non-invasive ABPM

The Portapres (TNO. Amsterdam), a portable recorder for 24 hour ambulatory monitoring, can provide beat-to-beat blood pressure monitoring which gives waveform measurements similar to intra-arterial recordings. However, the technique is subject to various inaccuracies, which the application of correction factors and digital filters in the latest model may remove, and the latest model is awaiting formal validation.

Device Tables Legend

The following abbreviations are used in the device tables.
Mode Mode of measurement
Hg Standard Mercury
Osc Oscilometric
Aus Ausculatory
AAMI Grading according to the American Association of Medical Instrumentation
  Overall pass or fail
BHS Grading according to the British Hypertension Society
  Individual A, B, C, D grades for both SBP and DBP
ESH Grading according to the International Protocol of the European Society for Hypertension
  Overall pass or fail
Circumstance Circumstance in which they were tested and any other relevant comments.


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