Physicians use oscillometric and auscultation techniques to measure blood pressure. Each technique offers its own strengths and weaknesses when evaluating systolic and diastolic measurements, taking into consideration ease of use, accuracy and technological advancements.
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When measuring blood pressure, auscultation is the act of listening for tapping sounds, known as Korotkoff sounds, which are made by the brachial artery as the blood pressure cuff is deflated and blood fills and empties the artery. In comparison, oscillation refers to the pulsing of blood through the arteries. The frequency of oscillation helps determine blood pressure by electronically inserting the frequency into standard algorithms.
Used by many physicians, the traditional auscultatory method uses a mercury sphygmomanometer, which is a measurement tool sometimes shaped like a thermometer that helps measure the systolic and diastolic pressures, blood pressure cuff and stethoscope. Together, these items provide manual blood pressure readings at the discretion of nurses or physicians who perform the test. This method is especially useful for people with irregular heart rates that may not get an accurate reading using the oscillometric method. Any outside noises, however, can cause errors during the reading.
The oscillometric method uses electronic technology, algorithms and a blood pressure cuff to measure blood pressure. This method is more prone to error if any movement occurs during the test. Any oscillometric device must be adjusted before use to ensure that it produces accurate readings, as it does not measure blood pressure directly, but obtains it through the use of algorithms.
A study published in 2001 in the Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, shows that the oscillometric and auscultation techniques provide different blood pressure measurements and should not be used interchangeably. Researchers agree, however, that the auscultatory method is more accurate when compared directly to intra-arterial blood pressure measurements.
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- American Heart Association: Home Blood Pressure Monitoring
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- Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine: "Comparison of Auscultatory and Oscillometric Blood Pressures"