Newsbriefs: Home Blood Pressure Monitors; Walking Speed & Brain Atrophy

STUDY: MOST HOME BLOOD PRESSURE MONITORS ARE INACCURATE

You’d do well to check your blood pressure monitor before you check your blood pressure—because there’s a 70 percent chance that the device will give an inaccurate reading, research suggests. In a study published April 19, 2017 in the American Journal of Hypertension, researchers compared readings delivered by 85 home blood pressure monitors of various types to readings taken at the same time with a professional device. Results showed that readings for systolic pressure—the top number in a blood pressure measurement—were off by 5 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) in 54 percent of home monitors, by 10 mmHg in about 20 percent of monitors, and by 15 mmHg or more in 7 percent of the devices. Readings for diastolic pressure—the bottom number in the measurement—were off by 5 mmHG in 31 percent of home monitors, by 10 mmHg in 12 percent of monitors, and by 15 mmHg in one percent of the devices, the research showed. The systolic blood pressure discrepancies were most often associated with male patients and larger arm size, while diastolic discrepancies were most often associated with older devices and those with the hard-cuff design, larger arm size, and patients of older age. The patient’s age and the stiffness of his or her blood vessels can make a significant difference in the accuracy of a blood pressure monitor if the device has not been specifically calibrated for the patient. Experts recommend that people who use home monitors bring them to their physician’s office to compare their readings with those taken by a medical professional.

SLOW WALKING SPEED LINKED TO BRAIN ATROPHY

Seniors whose walking speed slows over time are at greater risk for mental decline, according to a study published June 28, 2017 in Neurology. Researchers recruited 175 healthy seniors, ages 70 to 79, tested their walking speed and cognitive abilities, and administered brain scans on each participant. The researchers tracked participants for 14 years and performed regular assessments. They found that those participants whose walking speed slowed over the study period were more likely to show signs of mental decline—and that these changes were reflected in shrinkage of the participants’ hippocampus, a key memory region. Study authors recommended that doctors periodically check the walking speed of older patients and refer them for a cognitive evaluation if they detect significant changes.

DOES BRAIN INFLAMMATION CAUSE OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER?

People with an anxiety disorder called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are likely to have unusually high levels of brain inflammation, new research suggests. OCD is characterized by unwanted recurring thoughts and/or an irresistible need to repeat certain behaviors, such as hand washing or checking door locks. OCD is commonly treated with antidepressant medications, talk therapy, or a combination of the two. However, as many as one-third of patients may fail to respond to treatment. In a breakthrough study published June 21, 2017 in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers compared a small group of people with OCD to a similar group without the condition, using positron emission tomography (PET) scans to look for signs of brain inflammation. The scientists found that participants with OCD had brain inflammation levels that were 32 percent higher than normal in six regions of the brain known to function abnormally in OCD. Finding the cause of the inflammation and ways to counteract it may help in the development of new treatments, the researchers said.

THREE-DAY LIMIT RECOMMENDED FOR OPIOID PAINKILLERS

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended a limit of just three days in treating patients with prescription painkillers because dependency on the drugs—which include the painkillers oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicoprofen, Vicodin)—is thought to begin within that time period. With the exception of people with active cancer or those who are receiving palliative end-of-life care, the agency recommended that people with chronic pain choose other pain-control options, such as physical therapy, electrical stimulation, acupuncture, meditation, injections of local anesthetics, or over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

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