NEC wearable measures blood pressure with less squeeze

Smartphone-linked prototype can be worn under clothing

An NEC researcher shows off a wearable blood pressure prototype in Tokyo on Wednesday. The smartphne-linked device squeezes less than conventional cuffs but can still take accurate readings, according to the company.

An NEC researcher shows off a wearable blood pressure prototype in Tokyo on Wednesday. The smartphne-linked device squeezes less than conventional cuffs but can still take accurate readings, according to the company.

If your doctor has told you to keep close tabs on your blood pressure, NEC is developing a new wearable cuff with a gentle touch.

NEC unveiled the prototype device on Wednesday in Tokyo, saying it's accurate yet more comfortable to use than conventional meters because it exerts less of a squeeze.

Blood pressure meters, also known as sphygmomanometers, measure blood pressure by inflating a cuff that restricts arterial blood flow and then measuring the blood flow. The NEC prototype uses a pressure sensor and a vibration sensor to measure blood pressure.

The cuff's silver plastic housing integrates all the necessary hardware for the job. It contains the pump, rechargeable battery and a Bluetooth module for smartphone connectivity. A related Android app can gather the pressure data and display the readings in a graph.

During a demonstration, NEC staffers fitted the cuff on reporters' arms. The device made a motorized humming sound as it squeezed, but the pressure was much less than that of a conventional hand-pumped blood pressure meter used by family doctors.

Developed in conjunction with Yokohama City University School of Medicine, the device is able to take precise readings on healthy subjects while exerting as little as 100 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) worth of squeeze, compared to conventional technologies that exert about 180 to 200 mm Hg, according to NEC.

"We wanted to create an accurate pressurized unit that can be used by individuals," said Ersin Altintas, a NEC researcher who helped develop the prototype. "There are some optical methods for measuring blood pressure but the pressurized cuff is the most accurate."

The newly developed cuff is accurate to within 5 mm Hg, which is more refined than the medical standard of 8 mm Hg, he added.

The prototype currently weighs 250 grams, but could be made as light as 220 g with refinements. The cuff is 11 centimeters wide, about 3 cm less than standard cuffs. It can be worn under a shirt so that it's barely noticeable except for the noise it makes when in operation.

The monitor could be worn all day under clothing, though its battery currently lasts only three hours. It would measure blood pressure at regular intervals instead of continuously, company officials said.

NEC plans to commercialize the monitor but has not determined availability or price yet.

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