Fitbit can’t tell you your blood pressure in a traditional way. However, it is possible to use Fitbit with a photoplethysmography technique to measure your blood pressure by using the LED that emits light and the photodiode that receives it. This technique is similar to what doctors use (called an oscillometric device) and relies on changes in blood volume in vessels near the wrist when exposed to light.

The Technology Behind Blood Pressure Measurement

When measuring our blood pressure at home, we often picture a big machine in a doctor’s office or hospital lab. But newer technologies have made it possible for us to accurately and continuously monitor our heart rate and blood pressure at home without costly equipment or complicated procedures.

When your doctor or nurse takes your blood pressure, they wrap an elastic band around your arm and inflate a small rubber ball on the end of the stethoscope to press against your arm. This forces blood to move out of your arteries and into surrounding tissues, where the machine can measure it. But this “auscultatory” method only gives you one reading per inflation. If you wanted to check more frequently, you’d have to spend more time in the doctor’s office.

With the advent of photoplethysmography, home monitoring became easier because there was no need for inflating anything. Instead, a sensor is placed on your wrist, a button is pressed to activate a light source, and the sensor monitors the changes in blood volume in the vessels under your skin after being exposed to light.

The use of this technology has been studied in adults and children with varying findings. The most common result was that photoplethysmography gave results within 5-10 mmHg of nurses’ readings, but the percentage of people whose home BP matched their office BP was less than 50%.

In addition to being considered more comfortable than conventional cuff devices, photoplethysmography may provide more accurate results because they allow for continuous monitoring versus single measurements.

Blood pressure watch

Devices use photoplethysmography and measure blood pressure continuously. The result is an hourly reading that is averaged over four separate readings per hour. The electronic probe on the device has a light source that turns on for one minute, then off for one minute. When you press the button to start the measurement, the light turns on again and is continuously visible through the skin except when it’s off.

According to manufacturers of this device, these characteristics provide “a more accurate reading than traditional wave forms with less wave distortion.” A disadvantage is that consumers can’t check their own blood pressure with this technique.

Is Blood Pressure Watch Accurate?

A blood pressure watch is not designed to give you an average blood pressure because it measures the peak blood pressure. Manufacturers of these devices recommend comparing your peak reading to your average reading taken with the device because the peak reading doesn’t tell you much about your overall health.

The accuracy of blood pressure watch is supported by research, but there have been no peer-reviewed studies on their use among children. Further research will need to be done before pediatricians widely support these devices.

They are thought to be more accurate than wrist-based heart rate monitors, which only estimate heart rate by using an accelerometer that might also detect arm movements or brief changes in position. Since blood pressure changes throughout the day, it’s important to take your reading at the same time every day to get an accurate overall reading.

Can Fitbit Measure Heart Rate?

The heart rate measurement produced by Fitbit is an approximation of your heart rate using just heart rate variability. Fitbit has not released the specifics about how the technology works. Still, it would have to use either an accelerometer or a photodiode to detect your wrist movement or light changes that are associated with the beating of your heart.

When you take your own pulse, the most important thing is to make sure that you always do it in the same way. By doing so, you will be able to compare your results over time and see if there are any changes in your fitness level. It’s also helpful to take your pulse right after exercising when fluctuations could be more pronounced.

Is it reliable?

Fitbit as a brand has been on the go for the last eight years and has had approximately 11.8 million customers as of 2016. Its accuracy is questionable, which lies in its mostly unproven claims. Also, it does not offer any third-party medical proof on the accuracy and precision of Fitbit health products.

Fitbit offers around 30 different models ranging from $20-$300 having features like 36/42 monitors on some models, GPS, heart rate tracker, and so on. It offers coaching on fitness and healthy living, which can be taken advantage of by anyone looking to stay fit and healthy with the help of their wrist device. 

The main competitors include Jawbone, Garmin Vivosmart HR+, and the Wahoo TICKR series.

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Being affected by so many factors, blood pressure can either rise or fall. A Fitbit cannot replace the doctor’s advice, but it could be an additional monitor that can provide helpful information.

Scientists are still working on how wrist-worn devices like the blood pressure monitor come up with results close to accurate blood pressure values. These devices might not be as precise as expected; however, these devices are still good for their low cost and the possibility of staying connected to your health at all times.