Objective: To reach a consensus on the clinical use of ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM).
Methods: A task force on the clinical use of ABPM wrote this overview in preparation for the Seventh International Consensus Conference (23-25 September 1999, Leuven, Belgium). This article was amended to account for opinions aired at the conference and to reflect the common ground reached in the discussions.
Points of consensus: The Riva Rocci/Korotkoff technique, although it is prone to error, is easy and cheap to perform and remains worldwide the standard procedure for measuring blood pressure. ABPM should be performed only with properly validated devices as an accessory to conventional measurement of blood pressure. Ambulatory recording of blood pressure requires considerable investment in equipment and training and its use for screening purposes cannot be recommended. ABPM is most useful for identifying patients with white-coat hypertension (WCH), also known as isolated clinic hypertension, which is arbitrarily defined as a clinic blood pressure of more than 140 mmHg systolic or 90 mmHg diastolic in a patient with daytime ambulatory blood pressure below 135 mmHg systolic and 85 mmHg diastolic. Some experts consider a daytime blood pressure below 130 mmHg systolic and 80 mmHg diastolic optimal. Whether WCH predisposes subjects to sustained hypertension remains debated. However, outcome is better correlated to the ambulatory blood pressure than it is to the conventional blood pressure. Antihypertensive drugs lower the clinic blood pressure in patients with WCH but not the ambulatory blood pressure, and also do not improve prognosis. Nevertheless, WCH should not be left unattended. If no previous cardiovascular complications are present, treatment could be limited to follow-up and hygienic measures, which should also account for risk factors other than hypertension. ABPM is superior to conventional measurement of blood pressure not only for selecting patients for antihypertensive drug treatment but also for assessing the effects both of non-pharmacological and of pharmacological therapy. The ambulatory blood pressure should be reduced by treatment to below the thresholds applied for diagnosing sustained hypertension. ABPM makes the diagnosis and treatment of nocturnal hypertension possible and is especially indicated for patients with borderline hypertension, the elderly, pregnant women, patients with treatment-resistant hypertension and patients with symptoms suggestive of hypotension. In centres with sufficient financial resources, ABPM could become part of the routine assessment of patients with clinic hypertension. For patients with WCH, it should be repeated at annual or 6-monthly intervals. Variation of blood pressure throughout the day can be monitored only by ABPM, but several advantages of the latter technique can also be obtained by self-measurement of blood pressure, a less expensive method that is probably better suited to primary practice and use in developing countries.
Conclusions: ABPM or equivalent methods for tracing the white-coat effect should become part of the routine diagnostic and therapeutic procedures applied to treated and untreated patients with elevated clinic blood pressures. Results of long-term outcome trials should better establish the advantage of further integrating ABPM as an accessory to conventional sphygmomanometry into the routine care of hypertensive patients and should provide more definite information on the long-term cost-effectiveness. Because such trials are not likely to be funded by the pharmaceutical industry, governments and health insurance companies should take responsibility in this regard.