Heart Health: Blood Pressure Phone App Is Designed To Empower Patients

A heart-shaped stethoscope on a cardiogram. Researchers at at Michigan State University have developed a phone application that can help patients keep track of their blood pressure. Wodicka/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Patients could soon be able to forego the squeeze of the blood pressure cuff and monitor their blood pressure at home with a phone application, a new development that could help millions of Americans keep tabs on their cardiovascular health.

The application for iPhones is meant to empower patients to pay attention to their blood pressure at a time when cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in Americans. The application is currently being tested and developed by researchers at Michigan State University. The research, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, is featured in the current issue of the journal Scientific Reports.

The app works with a simple press of a finger to the phone's screen. The built-in sensors and the camera work together to record pressure and blood flow. Researchers anticipate the app will one day rival blood pressure monitors used in doctor's offices.

A blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope. Researchers at Michigan State University have designed a phone application that can help patients monitor their blood pressure. PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/GettyImages

The screen displays both the pressure on the blood vessels when the heart contracts as well as when the heart relaxes between beats. These numbers can be recorded over time to produce an average and possibly a more accurate picture of the person's overall heart health.

"By leveraging optical and force sensors already in smartphones for taking 'selfies' and employing 'peek and pop,' we've invented a practical tool to keep tabs on blood pressure," lead scientist Ramakrishna Mukkamala, MSU electrical and computer engineering professor, said in a statement.

High blood pressure is a common condition that affects about one of three adults in the U.S. — or roughly 75 million people. It increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death for Americans.

A phone application that helps people keep tabs on their blood pressure could lead to more awareness of hypertension and may help reduce the number of people who die from cardiovascular disease, Mukkamala said.

The application works with just an iPhone. "Because no additional hardware is needed, we believe that the app could reach society faster," Mukkamala said.

The app still needs to be validated in standard regulatory tests and should be available to consumers by late 2019, he said.