Compared with smartphones, social media, televisions, and travel, the evolution of blood pressure measurement have moved at a snail’s pace over the past few decades.
You could even argue it hasn’t moved at all.
But why do we still rely on the dated and rather cumbersome blood pressure cuff? And can we expect any progress soon for easier, more accurate measurements?
Below, you’ll find a summary of the history of blood pressure theory and tools up until today, as well as a bold prediction of what the future holds for those with hypertension.
(PS Feel free to scroll to the end if you want to cheat and see the prediction immediately!)
We begin our tour of the past with Galen, a Greek philosopher, and physician in the Roman Empire. He advanced on Hippocrates’ observation that arteries ceased to bleed at the point of death.
Galen put forward the theory of a circulatory system with arteries containing “pneuma.” What’s that? We hear you ask. Pneuma was thought of as a life force pushed around the body by the heart.
English physician, William Harvey, went against Galen by proclaiming that the heart does not give an endless supply of blood. Instead, a limited amount of blood can move around the body in one direction.
Harvey’s breakthrough caused quite a stir. Reason being? Bloodletting — a now abandoned blood removal treatment hoped to filter out impurities and cure conditions — was a common medical practice at the time. Under Harvey’s assumption, there was no longer an infinite amount of blood for a sick individual to recover, so bloodletting was now viewed as a risky therapy.
Reverend Stephen Hales is credited with the first known instance of blood pressure measurement. It was far from ethical, in hindsight.
The method? Hales placed a glass tube into the artery of a horse (as well as smaller animals). Seeing how the blood rose and fell within the tube, he established that this must be due to changes in blood pressure.
An Austrian physician, Dr. von Basch, invented the sphygmomanometer (also known as the blood pressure monitor) in 1881.
Although celebrated as the first non-invasive way to measure human blood pressure, it was also complex. The device included a rubber bulb filled with water to manipulate blood flow in the artery and a mercury column to record the reading.
In the late 1800s, the Riva-Rocci device was adapted by a doctor named Nikolai Korotkoff. After this adaptation, the device could fit around the arm and become the blood pressure cuff design we still see today.
1905 marked the next stage of understanding. Korotkoff was able to determine the difference between systolic and diastolic blood pressure. This was done by recording five different sounds (the Korotkoff sounds) in the arteries as the heart contracted and refilled with blood. A big breakthrough.
The blood pressure history timeline above shows a flurry of new knowledge and possibilities following the progress made in the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s. But then everything seems to grind to a halt.
It’s strange. Especially when we consider how essential facets of health, such as exercise, nutrition, and sleep, have developed rapidly over the past decade. Daily step counters, calorie-tracking apps, and sleep analytics are now available to most. Yet, more advanced blood pressure measures have not appeared on the market.
Do either you or a loved one have hypertension?
If so, you’ll know the limitations of the standard blood pressure cuff method all too well:
The good news is that you no longer need to put up with these inconveniences!
You can now measure your blood pressure 24/7, no matter where you are, thanks to Aktiia’s “wear it and forget it” technology and mobile app. Finally, there’s a better way to manage and monitor your blood pressure.
With over 50 million measurements to date — and having been clinically validated for accuracy by over 20 peer-reviewed papers — Aktiia is ushering in a new era of future of blood pressure tracking.
The invention of the blood pressure cuff has taken us so far. But it’s time to give people with hypertension more control, data, and peace of mind that their blood pressure is moving in the right direction.
Learn more about Aktiia today. New insights about your heart health await.
Also, we recommend you stay in the loop with all things blood pressure by subscribing to the Aktiia email list below. Don’t wait – join the thousands of subscribers that are taking steps to improve their heart health.
By Declan Davey:
Declan is a health copywriter with a professional background in healthcare, having worked as a psychological therapist for the NHS in London, UK.