How to Measure Your Blood Pressure at Home
By Vasu Palli, DO, Cardiologist, Virtua Cardiology – Sewell
If your blood pressure is higher than normal or you have a condition like diabetes or kidney disease, your doctor may recommend you measure it at home.
Monitoring your blood pressure regularly at home can alert you to any changes in your numbers and get treatment earlier than if you only receive readings at the doctor’s office. You also will also know if your medication and lifestyle changes are working, or if you have to make adjustments.
Before you start, it’s important you buy a good monitor and know the right technique to get accurate readings.
Finding a Good Monitor
You can purchase home blood pressure monitors online and at most pharmacies. The website stridebp.org maintains a list of monitors validated by several cardiac societies. Your health care provider also can recommend a good brand, and can instruct how to use it properly.
Digital monitors are the most popular for measuring blood pressure at home due to their ease of use. Digital monitors come complete with a gauge and stethoscope built into the unit. The cuff automatically inflates and deflates, and your blood pressure reading appears in a large font on a screen. You can even find units that print out your readings on paper to help make tracking easier.
In order to choose the best type of monitor to meet your needs, consider these features:
- Size: The size of the cuff is determined by the size of your arm. If the cuff is the wrong size, you will not receive accurate readings. Your health care provider or pharmacist can help determine the correct size.
- Price: Home monitors vary greatly in price. Shop around to find the best deal. And remember, the most expensive unit may not be the best or most accurate.
- Display: Check out the display on the unit. Make sure you can identify the readings and can see them clearly.
Tips for Measuring Your Blood Pressure
To ensure you get an accurate reading:
- Be still. Don't smoke, drink caffeinated beverages, or exercise within 30 minutes before measuring your blood pressure. Go to the bathroom and rest quietly for at least 5 minutes before starting.
- Sit correctly. Sit with your back straight and supported (on a dining chair, rather than a sofa). Place your feet flat on the floor and do not cross your legs. Your arm should be supported on a flat surface (such as a table), with your upper arm at heart level. Make sure the bottom of the cuff is placed directly above the bend of your elbow.
- Place the snugly cuff over your bare skin. Don't take the measurement over clothes.
- Measure at the same time every day. It’s important to take the readings at the same time each day, such as morning and evening. Your blood pressure varies throughout the day, and readings often are higher in the morning.
- Take multiple readings and record the results. Each time you measure, take two or three readings one minute apart and record the results in a log. If your monitor has built-in memory to store your readings, take it with you to your appointments. Some monitors may also allow you to upload your readings to a secure website after you register your profile.
Know Your Numbers
Your blood pressure consists of two numbers. The top number, the systolic, is the pressure of blood pumping out of your heart and into the arteries. The bottom number, the diastolic, is the pressure when the heart rests between beats. According to guidelines set by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology:
- Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg
- Elevated blood pressure is systolic 120-129 mmHg and diastolic less than 80 mmHg
- Stage 1 hypertension is systolic 130-139 mmHg or diastolic 80-89 mmHg
- Stage 2 hypertension is systolic 140 mmHg or greater or diastolic 90 mmHg or greater
A single high reading is not an immediate cause for alarm. Check it a few more times, and contact your health care provider if you are concerned.
Recognize an Emergency
If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mmHg and don’t go down, or if you are also experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision, or difficulty speaking, call 911.
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Updated February 25, 2021