How to Get an Accurate Blood Pressure Reading at Home
Blood pressure can accurately be taken at home with some informed guidance. Blood pressure is one of the vital signs used by healthcare providers worldwide as part of a complete assessment. Blood pressure tells us about the stress in your arteries when your heart is relaxed and contracted.
How to Choose a Home Blood Pressure Monitor
The American Heart Association recommends an automatic, cuff-style, bicep (upper-arm) blood pressure monitor and offers the following suggestions:
Source:American Heart Association
Once you have the suitable device, follow these steps:
- Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground
- Breathe normally and stay calm
- Secure the cuff to your upper arm
- Place the cuff directly on your skin, not over your clothing
- Sit and relax for about 2-5 minutes with the cuff on.
- Start the device
- Record your blood pressure measurement
Most devices have a button to press the cuff. The measurements will be read digitally on the monitor. When the cuff fills with air from the air tube, you will feel the cuff tighten around your arm. The squeezing should not hurt. Once the measurements are taken, the air is let out from the cuff, automatically deflating it.
What Else Can Affect Blood Pressure Measurement?
- First, having a full bladder can temporarily increase your blood pressure, so before you begin, go to the bathroom and empty your bladder. Otherwise, you may have an inaccurate blood pressure measurement.
- Secondly, when sitting in the chair, back supported, ensure your feet are flat on the ground and not crossed. Crossing your legs can affect the blood pressure measurement, making it inaccurate.
- Next, make sure the cuff fits your arm correctly. You may need a small, medium, or large cuff, depending on your upper arm circumference. Poorly fitted cuffs can result in inaccurate measurements, either too high or too low.
- No talking while the blood pressure monitor is calculating your blood pressure.
- If you think your initial blood pressure measurement is incorrect, relax for 1 minute and retake your blood pressure.
- Anxiety, stress, and physical exertion before taking your blood pressure can result in false readings. Sometimes, people get anxious when taking blood pressure measurements, resulting in falsely high readings. There is even a medical phenomenon called "white coat syndrome," in which people only have high blood pressure when measured in a doctor's office.
- Physical exertion can cause elevated blood pressure measurements; when you exercise, your heart rate and blood pressure increase to pump more blood throughout your body. If you are up and moving 30 minutes before taking your blood pressure, this could affect the accuracy. Blood pressure should be measured when your body is in a comfortable place.
Using a Blood Pressure Cuff
Cuffs are used with blood pressure monitors to detect blood flow in your artery. The cuff can detect pressure from the air tube inflating the cuff around your arm. The monitor can measure blood pressure as the cuff inflates and then slowly deflates.
Cuffs come in various sizes to fit all types of arms. It is essential to make sure the cuff fits your arm comfortably.
The length of the cuff should be about 80%, and the width should be about 40% of your upper arm. Most cuffs will have an "artery line" marked on the cuff, which helps with the proper positioning. This line positions the cuff over the brachial artery, the artery in your upper arm. Ask your doctor or nurse to help you with correct positioning the first time you use the device.
According to the American Heart Association, the following are the appropriate cuff sizes for designated arm circumference size:
- Arm circumference 22 to 26 cm: use a small adult cuff
- Arm circumference 27 to 34 cm: use an adult cuff
- Arm circumference 35 to 44 cm: use a large adult cuff
- Arm circumference 45 to 52 cm: use an adult thigh cuff
After you have secured the cuff around your arm, the bottom edge of the cuff should be positioned about one inch above the antecubital fold, which is the fold you make in your arm when you bend your elbow.
How Frequently Should You Take Your Blood Pressure?
If you are taking medication for hypertension, ask your prescriber about the optimal frequency for you. Be sure to store the readings in the monitor or app and/ or write them down.
Some individuals at risk for hypertension - for example, pregnant women or people with diabetes or obesity - may also want to check their blood pressure periodically.
Usually, you check your blood pressure in the morning before taking your high blood pressure medications. If you take more than one blood pressure medication, your doctor may want you to take your blood pressure more frequently during the day.
Checking and keeping track of your blood pressure for several days or longer will help your doctor understand your average blood pressure and decide which medication is working or if you can stop taking a specific drug.
What is a Normal Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure measurement consists of systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number). For example, 120 over 80 means your systolic blood pressure is 120, while your diastolic blood pressure is 80. Both numbers are considered when measuring your blood pressure.
Source: American Heart Association
Where to Find a Blood Pressure Monitor
You do not need a prescription to buy a home blood pressure meter. Pharmacies and drugstores such as Walgreens and CVS carry blood pressure monitors for sale. Devices are usually displayed near over-prescription medications.
You should consider the meter's cost, size, and ease of use. Some insurance companies will help pay for your device. Blood pressure monitors are also covered under health savings accounts, flexible spending accounts, and health reimbursement arrangements. Monitors are also available at FSA and HSA online stores.
Additionally, there are many places where you can get your blood pressure measured. Some locations with blood pressure measurements include grocery stores, pharmacies, and superstores. Fire stations often have free blood pressure readings.
Talk to a Doctor About Blood Pressure
Talk to an AccoladeCare doctor if you have questions about your heart health or blood pressure. High blood pressure often goes unnoticed because it shows no symptoms, but it increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, and other severe conditions. Take control of your health by making an appointment to speak with an AccoladeCare doctor. Ask one of our doctors to help you find a suitable blood pressure device today.
American Heart Association. High Blood Pressure. Accessed March 8, 2022, at https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure
American Heart Association. Monitoring Your Blood Pressure at Home. Accessed March 8, 2022, at https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measure Your Blood Pressure. Accessed on March 1, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/measure.htm
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