Updated 07 July 2014

Which type of blood pressure equipment is best?

Mercury sphygmomanometer, aneroid sphygmomanometer or electronic measurement?


The original method of measuring blood pressure, as described in 1906 by Dr Korotkoff, has stood the test of time. 

However, the mercury sphygmomanometer we are familiar with, may be a thing of the past in the not-so-distant future.

Mercury sphygmomanometers – still the golden standard in SA
This is the basic measurement tool and is used by most health professionals. A good stethoscope and technique is important. The correct cuff size is necessary to give an accurate reading. Used correctly, it is a very reliable and cost effective method of taking blood pressure.

Although very safe for the patient in the clinical setting, mercury is a toxic and bioaccumulable substance. Environmental concerns have led to pressure to restrict the use of mercury, and mercury sphygmomanometers have already been banned in some countries.

Aneroid sphygmomanometers
In these devices a different metal is used. Regular calibration is needed as the metal age, else the readings could become inaccurate. Test the readings against a mercury device from time to time. Good quality aneroid devices are available – choose recognised brands.

Electronic measurement
Electronic measurement can be very user-friendly and accurate. That makes it a good choice for home monitoring.  Some also give a printed read-out that makes recordkeeping easy. Latex-free cuffs are available that inflates and deflates automatically. Very good quality devices are available locally. Get professional advice before buying one, as they are not all equally reliable. It has to be a validated device, and even then, the measurements must sometimes be tested against a mercury sphygmomanometer. As with all digital devices, back-up service is an important factor. 

(Dr Kathleen Coetzee, MBChB)

Read more:
Am I at risk for hypertension?


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Dr Jacomien de Villiers qualified as a specialist physician at the University of Pretoria in 1995. She worked at various clinics at the Department of Internal Medicine, Steve Biko Hospital, these include General Internal Medicine, Hypertension, Diabetes and Cardiology. She has run a private practice since 2001, as well as a consultant post at the Endocrine Clinic of Steve Biko Hospital.

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