Knowing how to accurately measure your blood pressure at home can be beneficial for your doctor to diagnose and treat high blood pressure, a condition that can have negative effects on the heart, kidneys, and brain.
Regularly having your blood pressure checked is important for adults and should be done at least once a year.
If your blood pressure reading at the doctor's office is higher than the healthy range, it is recommended to repeat the measurement outside of a clinic setting before starting treatment, according to guidelines from the US Preventive Services Task Force. However, there are other reasons why your doctor may advise you to regularly monitor your blood pressure at home.
Home monitoring is useful in the following situations:
- To determine if your blood pressure is truly higher than normal, as some people may experience elevated blood pressure only at the doctor's office, known as white-coat hypertension.
- If your doctor asks you to track your readings to help decide if medication is necessary to lower your blood pressure.
- If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and need to adjust your medications to reach your blood pressure target.
- If you are pregnant or have recently given birth, and your healthcare team is concerned about preeclampsia, a severe form of high blood pressure that can cause harm to vital organs.
When choosing a home blood pressure monitor, it is important to select a validated device that has been independently reviewed for accuracy. Avoid using monitors with wrist or fingertip cuffs, as they are not as accurate as upper-arm cuffs. Additionally, ensure that you choose the right size cuff for your upper arm, as using a cuff that is too small or too loose can result in incorrect readings.
While basic models can cost as little as $25, more expensive models ranging from $50 to $100 may offer added convenience, such as storing multiple readings and sending data to your computer or smartphone, or directly to your doctor's office patient portal.
Here are three key points to remember about blood pressure readings:
1. Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day, so one isolated reading is not sufficient for an accurate assessment.
2. Checking your blood pressure when you are upset or stressed can lead to higher readings. Taking multiple readings consistently provides a more reliable assessment.
3. Consult with your doctor about how often and at what time of day you should take your blood pressure. The gold standard for home monitoring is to take 28 separate measurements over seven consecutive days and average them. However, even 12 measurements over three days, including a weekend day, can be reasonable.
To obtain an accurate blood pressure reading, it is important to avoid common mistakes. Wait at least 30 minutes after smoking, consuming caffeine or alcohol, or exercising before measuring your blood pressure. These activities can affect your heart rate and blood vessels, potentially leading to inaccurate readings. Additionally, empty your bladder before measuring your blood pressure, as a full bladder can put pressure on your kidneys and raise blood pressure.
When measuring your blood pressure, sit comfortably with your arm supported near heart height. Avoid crossing your legs, as this can temporarily raise blood pressure. Sit quietly and undistracted for a few minutes before taking a reading. Make sure to wrap the cuff around your bare arm, about an inch above the crook of your elbow, and start the machine to measure your blood pressure.
Diagnosing and treating high blood pressure is crucial, as nearly half of all adults have this condition, and many are unaware of it. High blood pressure can lead to serious health problems such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, and cognitive decline. It is often referred to as the silent killer because its effects are not felt or experienced until it is too late.
Remember to consult with your healthcare provider for personalized advice on monitoring your blood pressure at home and managing your overall health.