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Menzies researchers help to take the pressure down

The Blood Pressure Clinic at Menzies is designed to help improve community health.

Researchers in the Menzies Institute for Medical Research are passionate about keeping people healthy.

That’s why the Blood Pressure Research Group was out in force at the annual running event, Hobart Run the Bridge. The group was at the finish line providing race entrants with free, post-race, blood pressure screenings.

Dr James Sharman said the team screened many healthy people, but also a few that had higher than ideal blood pressure even though they had recently finished the run.

 “When we found people who had high blood pressure, we gave them some advice for measuring their blood pressure at home. This is a much better way to determine their true underlying blood pressure instead of post-race conditions,” said Dr James Sharman.

“We also gave them information about our Blood Pressure Clinic in case they want to get a referral from their GP."

The event was a really great way to connect with the community and make important measures relating to cardiovascular health that could be very helpful for individuals.

of Australian adults have got high blood pressure.

The Blood Pressure Clinic is a place where members of the public can have their blood pressure checked if they, or their doctor, have a concern. The clinic is staffed by the research group members and volunteer doctors.

But isn’t blood pressure a very simple thing to check? Well, not exactly.

“We know there is a real evidence-practice gap in the way that blood pressure is measured in clinical practice. 

In many cases we find people are affected by the white coat effect, which is where doctor-measured blood pressure is higher than measures taken outside the clinic. It’s a really interesting phenomenon that can lead to errors in diagnosis.

“In the clinic we take a very comprehensive history and the latest measures of blood pressure including a 24 hour ambulatory monitoring. 

“This more careful assessment of blood pressure can take out that white coat effect and determine the individual’s true blood pressure. 

 “People then get to see specialist doctors, but we try and get them referred back to their GP as quickly as possible and provide them with all the information we have gathered to help with management of their blood pressure. 

The Blood Pressure research group at Menzies.

What I find fascinating is that some people feel perfectly calm and happy but their doctor-measured blood pressure is much higher.

“There are other factors. Not sitting down for long enough, not resting long enough or not taking enough readings. For these reasons often the blood pressure measured in the clinic will be higher. 

“Overwhelmingly people are going away from our clinic very happy because before us they’ve been concerned, usually because of this variability in their blood pressure, and we are able to reassure them when we measure it differently it may not be as bad an issue as initially suspected."

The heart, on average, beats about 100,000 times in a 24 hour period, nearly three million times in a month.

Information from the clinic also provides helpful data for the team’s research projects. One of those is on the improved clinical assessment of blood pressure using an automated unobserved technique.

“We are also looking at other new techniques for measuring blood pressure. Instead of the pressure at the arm, we are interested in the central pressure that we can measure just outside the heart.

“While we are using these techniques in the Blood Pressure Clinic, we also have a separate clinical trial to determine whether we can intervene and lower central pressure to improve cardiovascular risk among people that have relatively high central pressure.

“We are following research subjects over two years and taking all sorts of cardiovascular measures, including the structure and function of the heart, blood biochemistry, and of course blood pressure control.

There’s a sizable body of evidence to suggest that a more accurate measure of the central pressure can really help refine treatment decisions.

“Central pressure is more strongly related to cardiovascular outcomes. That’s why we are undertaking some studies to try and determine where it fits clinically and how it can be used.”


years ago the original method to measure blood pressure at the arm was invented. Initially doctors thought the higher the pressure, the stronger the heart.

How to take care of your blood pressure:

“Eighty per cent of high blood pressure comes from lifestyle; in particular from physical inactivity, being overweight and dietary influences such as too much salt. 

“It is very common for blood pressure to rise with older age, but because there are often no symptoms of hypertension people may not know they have the problem.”

• Regular aerobic activity is the best thing you can do. You don’t need to get into gym gear, even just regular walking will really help.

• Some people are sensitive to salt, so if you can remove some salt in the diet that can lower blood pressure. 

• Reducing body weight can also assist.

• Chat with your GP.

Interested in conducting your own research? Apply now to become a research student.