Everyone who has walked into a doctor’s office or hospital has had their blood pressure taken at least once. The cuff that wraps around your arm is inflated to the point that it stops the superficial circulation to the arm, which then returns gradually as the cuff slowly deflates.
These blood pressure cuffs (sphygnomanometers) have been used for other things as well. In an emergency, a cuff can be pumped up around a unit of blood to push it into the patient’s vein more quickly. A cuff can be used around an arm (or leg) if you’ve been bitten by a poisonous creature, slowing down the flow of blood back to the heart. And now, a blood pressure cuff may be another way to save your life, or at least limit the amount of damage that can occur, from a heart attack.
A study published last week in the medical journal, Lancet, researchers described how using the BP cuff on the arm of a patient having a heart attack – five minutes inflated, five minutes deflated – for 35 to 40 minutes, cut the muscle damage in the heart by an average of 30%, compared to patients who were not given the cuff. In addition, some people who had more severe heart attacks who had the cuff applied experienced a 50% lower amount of damage than doctors typically see.
Two hundred fifty patients in Denmark were followed by this study. The treatment, given the name “remote ischemic preconditioning,” could be a boon to health treatment, considering its low cost and its availability to be done in an ambulance while on the way to a hospital.
More studies need to be done, on larger numbers of patients, to see if the findings are replicated, but doctors who participated in the project are enthusiastic.