AUTOMATIC BLOOD PRESSURE MONITOR
When monitoring blood pressure at home,
Taking twice-daily measurements for a few days will tell you what you need to know for optimal blood pressure control.
Keeping your blood pressure in check is key to a maintaining heart health and preventing stroke, but the way most of us monitor our pressure isn’t ideal. We trek to the doctor’s office for occasional blood pressure checks, even though that’s like trying to figure out what an entire movie is about by glancing at a few seconds of footage.
“A single value at an office visit may not really reflect the true range of a person’s blood pressure,” says Dr. Christian Ruff, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “It could be misleading in either direction.”
Studies show that measurements at the doctor’s office can be elevated—a phenomenon known as “white-coat hypertension” that may affect 25% of people. The flip side is “masked” high blood pressure, in which your pressure looks perfectly fine in the office but is higher at other times. This may affect 10% or more people, though the exact number is unclear.
Dr. Ruff strongly encourages home monitoring to help men with high blood pressure keep their numbers within healthy boundaries. “By checking your blood pressure at home, you could get the same information in a week that would take months of office visits,” Dr. Ruff says.
How to measure at home
To measure your blood pressure at home, the first thing you need is a blood pressure cuff. Then you need to know how to use it correctly. Ask your doctor for advice if you are not sure what to do.
Equipment: There are dozens of home blood pressure monitors on the market. You can buy a good one at your local pharmacy or online for anywhere between $40 and $100.
Get a cuff that inflates automatically around your upper arm and shows
the results on a large, easy-to-read display. The types that go around the wrist or attach to a finger tend to be less accurate.
On the other hand, Dr. Ruff says, just about any device can give you a good result if you collect measurements over an extended period and then bring the device with you to your doctor’s office to compare its accuracy to that of the office equipment. “The monitor you get is probably the least important decision,” Dr. Ruff says.
When to measure: Take two measurements in the morning, spaced a few minutes apart, followed by two more in the evening. You can take the measurements before or after coffee or medications, as long as you are consistent about it over the measurement period. “The most important thing is that you do it,” Dr. Ruff says. However, don’t take the measurements right after exercising.
Number of measurements: A total of 12 to 16 measurements, over a period of three or four days should average out to a fairly representative 24-hour
How often to measure: Once your blood pressure is within the bounds you agree on with your doctor, repeat the testing process several times a year, just to keep an eye on things. Blood pressure does tend to rise over time, and periodic checks can provide valuable information on the possible reasons for a change. Men taking blood pressure medications should take fresh measurements after any change in medications, diet, or exercise habits.
How to measure your blood pressure
Do this in the morning and evening for three or four days, and average the upper (systolic) and lower (diastolic) readings separately. Make sure to take the cuff to your next medical appointment to compare its accuracy to the office equipment. It may be somewhat lower or higher than the in-office measurement.