This study aimed to investigate the effect of stethoscope position and contact pressure on auscultatory blood pressure (BP) measurement. Thirty healthy subjects were studied. Two identical stethoscopes (one under the cuff, the other outside the cuff) were used to simultaneously and digitally record 2 channels of Korotkoff sounds during linear cuff pressure deflation. For each subject, 3 measurements with different contact pressures (0, 50, and 100 mm Hg) on the stethoscope outside the cuff were each recorded at 3 repeat sessions. The Korotkoff sounds were replayed twice on separate days to each of 2 experienced listeners to determine systolic and diastolic BPs (SBP and DBP). Variance analysis was performed to study the measurement repeatability and the effect of stethoscope position and contact pressure on BPs. There was no significant BP difference between the 3 repeat sessions, between the 2 determinations from each listener, between the 2 listeners and between the 3 stethoscope contact pressures (all P > 0.06). There was no significant SBP difference between the 2 stethoscope positions at the 2 lower stethoscope pressures (P = 0.23 and 0.45), but there was a small (0.4 mm Hg, clinically unimportant) significant difference (P = 0.005) at the highest stethoscope pressure. The key result was that, DBP from the stethoscope under the cuff was significantly lower than that from outside the cuff by 2.8 mm Hg (P < 0.001, 95% confidence interval −3.5 to −2.1 mm Hg). Since it is known that the traditional Korotkoff sound method, with the stethoscope outside the cuff, tends to give a higher DBP than the true intra-arterial pressure, this study could suggest that the stethoscope position under the cuff, and closer to the arterial occlusion, might yield measurements closer to the actual invasive DBP.
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