In the middle of a conversation at dinner, I slowly lift my arm to my chest. I feel the little compression. I wait, and it ends. My blood pressure is not bad. I drink my iced tea.
I'm wearingon my wrist for weeks now. It is the first FDA-cleared fitness watch that is a true, serious blood pressure monitor. It gave me a glimpse of what could be the next big limit for portable technology. It is fascinating and important to me, but in its present form it will not be for everyone yet.
When it comes to monitoring anything in my life, healthy, blood pressure is what I need to keep tabs on most things. I have had high blood pressure, high blood pressure for several years. I regularly see a cardiologist. I take medicine. I use a home cuff (or shell) for monitoring. None of this is fun.on allows many people to detect atrial fibrillation, but it does nothing for my awareness of my blood pressure.
Blood pressure is not "t A simple technique to crack for easy, portable use. I have tried smaller versions of inflatable bracelets, but they are still such things that you need to hold in a backpack.
Real Blood Pressure
HeartGuide has no new types of optical sensors on board. The blood pressure technique involves an inflatable bladder on the inside that you can actually feel pressurized over your wrist. To start reading is very simple: press the upper button and then lift the clock to the heart level. It buzzes when the height is correct and begins to take a measurement, which takes about 30 seconds. You must stay still while reading.
Omron's CEO, Ranndy Kellogg, says that the HeartGuide's inflatable cuff is rated for 30,000 applications. If I used it five times a day, it would be over 16 years old (but at that time the battery may not be last). If any problems arise with the technology, which I have not had, Omron will replace the watch for free.
Readings pop up on the clock, which stores up to 100 readings at a time. Systolic, diastolic and heart rate from spot metering appear. My readings seemed low first, but I checked against my home cuff button (also by Omron) and got similar readings. So far, so good.
Suddenly, I began to check my blood pressure in places I never used to: at the cinema, watch how to train your dragon with the kids. In the mall. During breakfast. In the middle of the Cheesecake Factory, long lines and screaming kids, deep in suburban New Jersey. I put my arm in my chest and hold me still while my wrist is slowly gripped by the cuff of my watch. It's a buzz: I control my blood pressure. No surprise, not good. But the process becomes addictive.
It also means that I finally control my blood pressure, something I have avoided doing at home for literally months. If nothing else, it is the greatest success with the idea of blood pressure clock: it helps me stay conscious.
The readings are currently manual. A future update awaiting FDA approval takes nightly readings while you sleep, for results that no current blood pressure device can do, and can help raise awareness of unknown conditions while you sleep or the effects of medication at night.
Know this: Omron HeartGuide is not designed to be your everyday smartwatch replacement. It's big, even topped the bigger GPS clocks I've tried, and it dwarfs every day smartwatches like Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa. The metal fall and the transflective always on the screen feels like a super-big Garmin watch. And there's no touchscreen, instead just three side buttons that handle blood pressure readings, bikes through fitness statistics, and Bluetooth pairing. The wrist strap is most of all.
A large rubber strip lies on top of a substrate which is actually an inflatable microcuff, with the same underlying technique as a blood pressure arm cuff. From my wrist it looks completely bizarre. An included pair of soft fabric covers the inner cuff for breathability and to keep the equipment more dirt and sweat-free. It's a thick feeling and doesn't always slip easily under my shirts. Sometimes I accidentally trigger a blood pressure reading when the upper button of the watch is pressed on my jacket cuff and I feel that my wrist strap reinforces.
It's a great watch to sleep with: the thick cuff is not very comfortable. I also had to make sure to remove it before showering.
I have the medium-sized clock, which is the only version FDA-cleared at the moment. Omron also has a smaller cuff and larger cuff model planned, but they need separate FDA clearance due to different blood pressure algorithms. The larger cuffed model is then expected, and the smallest cuff version comes to the end of the year.
Synchronize with my phone
Omron's Heart Advisor app synchronizes readings, plus step count and one hour log to a HIPAA compatible cloud service. The app sync is synchronized with Apple Health. Omron's app is unusual because it aims to serve up blood pressure-based heart insight, an ambitious move for a medical device. My first insights, so far, began by saying that I had heart rhythm irregularities, something my Apple Watch with ECG and my cardiologist have not noticed. Recently, these insights have been changed to "no irregular heartbeat detected", which makes me feel much better.
The HeartAdvisor app is not as easy to use as a regular fitness app like Fitbit, but it really is intended to be more of an app-based lead to blood pressure analysis, not a complete dashboard for everything else. Still, I would like to see future smartwatches that can get blood pressure readings and even throw that data to any other state more organically.
Not Just a Smartwatch
HeartGuide runs its own basic software and only displays time, steps, an hour log (no deeper analysis) and the latest blood pressure measurement. There may be messages about incoming calls and text alerts but cannot read the text. Battery life lasts about 2-3 days when blood pressure measurements are taken about ten times a day. Taking more, which was hard to resist for me, takes a toll on battery life. To charge you cut it on a dongle that snaps to the cuff edge.
If HeartGuide passes for a smartwatch at a distance, a closer look will reveal its limitations. But it is besides the point. For anyone who may be looking for a watch to control blood pressure, and needs practical readings and is willing to pay much more for this convenience. While standard a standard blood pressure cuff from the drug store can cost you around $ 30, HeartGuide costs $ 500.
A visit to my cardiologist
I took HeartGuide to my check-up with my doctor in Manhattan and asked her thoughts. While she took my blood pressure manually, checked and counted on a stethoscope, I used HearGuiden to get my own reading. The results lined up (within ten points) of the doctor's reading. I told her it is uped how many measurements I have taken. Her question, when she found out how much it costs, was, "who will use this thing?" And, "Are there no blood pressure monitors for control blocks that cost much less?" The answers to both questions are: unclear, and yes. Sometimes wrist straps do not provide very accurate measurements for people like me with thick arms, which was why I appreciated HeartGuide which worked well so far. But, yes, there are other ways to monitor blood pressure. And since blood pressure is a single point measurement, not a continuous process like heart rate monitoring, you don't need to have it on your wrist all the time.
A sign of where Samsung and others are aiming for the next
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active suggests the ability to measure blood pressure, via to the "My BP Lab" app that watch owners can be a part of. But to be obvious, Samsung's watch doesn't make any actual medical grade blood pressure measurements. This is a research app made in collaboration with UCSF, much like the one Samsung made available on the Galaxy S9 last year, and the results are not guaranteed. (I haven't tried it yet).
But smartwatches may not be the only portable devices that look at blood pressure. I also recently met Valencell, a company that develops optical heart rate components for other portable devices, and tried an earbud-based blood pressure sensor. This earpiece sensor (or finger sensor) can lead to an FDA-cleared portability on the road, according to Valencell.
Omron does not mean that HeartGuide should be an everyday entity for everyone: it actually seems to target older men who have enough disposable income to afford it. But hopefully this is a sign of where more affordable, portable blood pressure technology could be managed.
Even though it is bulky and has a strange inflatable cuff and is expensive … it works and it is fascinating. I wouldn't want it all the time. But there is no clock that makes FDA-cleared blood pressure like Omron HeartGuide. And that indicates what the next major breakthrough in portable health needs to be. I want, and need, better portable blood pressure, and it is slowly emerging.