It’s American Heart Month, and an important part of a healthy heart is normal blood pressure! Understanding your blood pressure is important so you can start making changes to preventing heart disease. Are you curious about your blood pressure but aren’t due for a physical for a couple of months? Here are some frequently asked questions about at-home blood pressure monitoring.
Is it helpful to check my blood pressure at home?
Because of the easy availability of automatic digital blood pressure monitors, many folks can measure their blood pressure at home. This is beneficial for several reasons.
First, many patients have elevated blood pressures in medical settings. This is natural, as a doctor’s office is not typically a place where someone feels relaxed. Many Americans have what is known as “white coat hypertension,” a well recognized clinical condition where their blood pressures read as elevated and yet when they get home, their blood pressures are much improved. It can even be dangerous, as if white coat hypertension is ignored, it can result in over prescription of blood pressure medication or at least prescribing a higher dose than perhaps would be needed otherwise.
Second, measuring blood pressure at home can help you and your physician have useful data which will help in medication dosage adjustment and timing.
Are some blood pressure monitors better than others?
Most drug stores have good automatic blood pressure monitors available which are easy to use, and inflate by themselves, giving an automatic reading. The highest number is called the systolic blood pressure, and the lower number is the diastolic blood pressure. Often your heart rate is also reported.
What about wrist cuffs and finger blood pressure monitors?
In general, studies of finger and wrist monitors have demonstrated that these monitors are much less accurate and reliable than those which fit around your upper arm. Experts recommend using upper arm cuff monitors.
Is there a “correct way” to check one’s blood pressure?
Remember that if you have an issue with an upper arm, such as an AV fistula for kidney dialysis or have had a clot in that arm, you should not measure the pressure on that arm. If you have had significant breast surgery on one side, your doctor may recommend using the other side for blood pressure monitoring.
To get the most accurate reading, it’s best to be seated in a chair with both of one’s feet on the floor. If possible, sit back so that the back of the chair supports your back. Ideally, you should have your arm resting on a table at about the level of your heart. Try to relax and not talk while taking your blood pressure. Sometimes in the office, I encourage my patients to close their eyes and imagine themselves in a calm place.
What about measuring the blood pressure the traditional way with a stethoscope and manual cuff?
This is still quite acceptable, especially if you or a family member has been trained in how to do this. The technique for manual measurement is beyond the scope of this article, but if done correctly, accurate readings may be recorded in this fashion. Fortunately, this is not the only way, and studies have found that in most circumstances, automatic readings are reliable.