This review tells you how to get multiple, daily ANT+ compatible Blood Pressure readings to software on your PC that you can use to record and later print out to show specialists. The software in question is SportTracks which is software for data recording and analysis of LOTS of sports related data.
I will also talk a bit about blood pressure and athletic performance and some of the exercise-related problems around (high) blood pressure. If you EVER get chest pains you MUST go an see a doctor.
The usual caveat: I’m not a doctor so I could be talking nonsense, talk to a doctor if you have any concerns.
The overall solution I would say is excellent but the hardware required to achieve it is impossible to come by anywhere in Europe – you have to buy from the USA (Amazon.com).
You are probably looking at this page because you are: an athlete with a blood pressure issue; someone who wants a way of wirelessly recording BP data on a PC; or someone who just likes a few more gadgets and stats.
Here’s what you need:
- A&D UA851-ANT blood pressure monitor + 4 AAA batteries. You can buy one directly from the manufacturer in the USA or from Amazon.com in the USA. Be aware that there COULD be import duty (which could be 20% plus an admin fee of £10)to the UK and high postage you will, however, get SOME change from 100Euros/Quid (s/be >US$90+duty).
- An ANT+ USB dongle (the standard one that comes with Garmin watches is the one I use)
- A PC with SportTracks v3.X software (there is a free, restricted version that should be sufficient and a cheap paid for version with no limits)
- A special software plugin by OMB called ‘Blood Pressure Plugin‘ (there is a free trial licence and then a cheap one off licence fee which you have to buy)
- Put the batteries in the UA-851ANT and take at least one blood pressure reading. Follow the instructions in the usage manual provided. We are just doing a trial reading so it doesn’t really matter. But you must get one good reading.
- Install SportTracks v3.x as per web site instructions.
- Install the plugin and then ‘pair’ the device EXACTLY as per the detailed instructions. I won’t repeat them here. Read and follow them very closely ie exactly or it won’t work. There are NO SHORTCUTS. You will possibly need the latest version of .NET free from Microsoft as well (I already had it). Exit and re-start SportTracks.
- I had windows 7 32bit installed on my PC. The drivers for the USB ANT+ dongle had already been installed automatically from Microsoft when I installed my Garmin software some time ago. You might just be able to plug it in and go if you have acquired a new dongle. Indeed that is likely (ie it should just work).
Note: the GARMIN ANT+ Agent software must be turned OFF before the blood pressure monitor is recognised by the SportTracks software
From The Box
From the box you get the BP monitor and a few bits that are easily plugged in in obvious places. It looks like a very well made piece of kit. All the components ooze quality of manufacture. It’s a very simple device: it doesn’t do much more than take BP readings and consequently only has one ‘on’/’go’/’off’ button which does it all for you.
If you remember how you had your BP read by the doctor then you will know where and how to put on the strap (left arm). All you then do is press the button. It really is almost idiot proof. At the end of your reading the values, including heart rate, are displayed. Press the button again and it turns off. The great thing with this model is that it stores several readings over time and that is probably key to why you bought this model…along with the ANT+ connectivity of course.
For consistency you will want to get a certain number of readings per day in comparable like-for-like situations. However, like me, you may also want to get readings DURING exercise. I’ll explain why shortly.
I will be getting readings before during and after turbo sessions. I will probably end up taking readings in the interval/rest periods rather than during the activity period I would not advise taking a reading whilst pedalling as the ‘tube’ is not long and anyway you should probably be stationary for the sake of consistency.
Back to SportTracks
The great thing about the Blood Pressure plugin for SportTracks is that it records your readings and provides averages. The great thing about the UA851ANT is that it stores, I think, up to 10 readings so you really can use it during exercise and you really can forget to write down a reading and the unit will save it all for you to update later. Simples!
The other great thing with the Blood Pressure Plugin is that it allows you to:
- Change the date/time on the UA-851 ANT so that it matches your PC…otherwise you are stuck with what is presumably US time as the 851 has no way of changing the date/time.
- Clear the data from the UA-851ANT … maybe if, like me, your partner or kids decided to have a play with it.
- Import data and then erase it from the UA-851ANT
- Be notified when the UA-851ANT is within range (note the Garmin ANT+ agent must be turned off)
Using SportTracks: I use SportTracks a lot for my sport. I have to say it’s never been the most intuitive interface to use. The developer of the plugin has been constrained by SportTracks as a whole.
Once installed you get to the plugin via the ATHLETE VIEW.
Here are some screen shots
1. The UA-851ANT arm strap I find hard to attach properly. I often get a CUFF error. The air hose that goes from the strap to the monitor sometimes becomes partly detached from the unit and some air leaks out – this causes an error. A longer hose might help. Make sure the hose is fully pushed into the unit. The hose is a design fault IMHO.
2. The Plugin for SportTracks is cumbersome to ‘pair’. This is due to issues with the design of the UA-851ANT and of the ANT+ protocol in general – the plugin developer probably cold not have made this any easier.
3. The reporting capability of the Plugin is OK but could be improved. Specifically I would like a printout that I could take to the doctor that differentiates readings that are made ‘during’ exercise and those which are not. Similarly a doctor would be interested in time of day as well as the average reading if multiple readings were taken at a similar time.
Here is what you get. I did a screen print of this for my doctor (but it was too small for either of us to read that well)
4. What reporting functionality I would like
Firstly I would have to say that this is just my opinion and I don’t really know what would be useful for doctors. However I would imagine the following would be useful:
- A way of tagging ‘unusual’ readings to be excluded from the report. Such a reading could be an unusually low post-exercise reading for example.
- Ability to report either morning/noon/night/’unusual’ on its own
- Ability to print out daily averages or all values per a day as a simple list OR graph
- Perhaps ‘zones’ (see graph below) to easily visually highlight worrying values
I presume you got here because you consider yourself fit and you are annoyed that the doctor has told you your BP is too high. Like me you might also be a bit unclear about what exactly is normal and high or low and what your levels should vary between and how exercise immediately affects BP. Hopefully the chart to the right, which is not mine, helps explain.
I was also not entirely clear what or why BP should be at certain levels during exercise. Again this chart helps explain. Look at it closely.
Your doctor will have probably already gone through all the diet and exercise stuff that you need to do. Again that is on the chart in summary. The advice seems fairly consistent from GPs in the UK.
However if you do all the right things and your BP is too high then you need medications. It’s genetic…tough! unfortunately. So especially if you are an athlete you should not normally have high BP. If you do it is probably genetic.
My particular issue is a high DIASTOLIC pressure WHILST exercising. Called a hypertensive response to low workload. IE high blood pressure when doing a bit of ‘stuff’. NOT when exercising hard. Stuff that we all do (measured on a treadmill in a hospital using the BRUCE protocol, which also measures VO2 max at well below sub-maximal efforts).
Whilst exercising your diastolic BP should stay about the same or even go down. Mine goes up (=bad). The diastolic is the lower of the two readings. Obviously when exercising the higher of the 2 BP readings will go up and that could be well over 200mmHg for athletes. That’s not necessarily so much of a problem. Apparently a high diastolic BP can cause organ damage and lead to strokes etc.. If you look at what can go wrong it’s all pretty apocalyptic stuff, so you (and me) need to get it sorted.
How to get it sorted
If you have a genetic disposition (aka no apparent lifestyle reason) or if your BP levels are dangerously high anyway; then you will be put on medications. Possibly for very long periods.
The good news is that many of us have high BP and so the drugs companies can make money so there is a lot of research and a lot of products for the doctors to choose from. The 3 kinds are ACE inhibitors; calcium channel blockers; and Beta blockers.
If you are prescribed beta blockers as an athlete then you will not be able to compete as it significantly limits your HR. The other two are largely OK (in terms of not affecting your performance) but do have side effects, which you should find out about.
Anyway, the BP monitor is a great well made unit. If you want an ANT+ monitor then you pretty much only have this one to ‘choose’ from. If you have one already then the SportTracks software and the plugin are so cheap you may as well install them at least for the trial period. The plugin does a great job of getting the data onto your PC but mostly it lacks a useful report that could be taken to a doctor.