Why You Should Measure Your Blood Pressure at Home

Keeping track lets you stay on top of your health

Photo: Man testing his own blood pressure.

If you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure (BP) or told to keep an eye on it, it's important to do checks on a regular basis. The older we get, the more likely we are to have high BP, says Martha Gulati, MD, of the American College of Cardiology. 

Measuring BP at home can provide a more familiar, calmer environment than the doctor's office, Dr. Gulati says. 

At-home screening options
Not all home monitors are equal. Devices that fit onto the wrist are not always accurate, Dr. Gulati says. Instead, she recommends a cuff-based monitor. Ranging from $25 to $100, the most common two types measure pressure via a sensor on the index finger.

Traditional cuffs. Wrap the cuff around your upper arm, squeeze a rubber ball, and use a stethoscope to hear knocking sounds signaling systolic and diastolic pressure. This monitor is accurate, Dr. Gulati says, but only if used correctly. There is often a learning curve.

Digital cuffs. After you put on the cuff, you press a button and the device does the rest. Newer models wirelessly connect to a smartphone app and keep a record of all of your readings. Some provide charts, making it easy to spot good and bad trends.
 

DID YOU KNOW?
Your blood pressure is composed of two numbers:

SYSTOLIC (top number): the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
DIASTOLIC (bottom number): the pressure in your arteries when your heart is resting between beats.


DO I HAVE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE NOW?
According to recent American Heart Association guidelines, here's what the numbers mean.
Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or medication to control your blood pressure.

NORMAL ELEVATED HIGH STAGE 1 HIGH STAGE 2
SYSTOLIC
less than 120
— and —
DIASTOLIC
less than 80
SYSTOLIC
from 120 to 129
— and —
DIASTOLIC
less than 80
SYSTOLIC
from 130 to 139
— and —
DIASTOLIC
from 80 to 89
SYSTOLIC
at least 140
— and —
DIASTOLIC
at least 90
Congratulations!
Keep eating healthily
and exercising.
Start to make
healthier lifestyle
choices.
Make lifestyle changes
and, in some cases,
take medication.
Make lifestyle changes,
take medication, see your
doctor for follow-ups.

 

FOLLOW THESE STEPS FOR A BETTER READING
Blood pressure varies throughout the day. In addition, it can spike because of something
you ate or because of sudden stress. Here's how to take the most accurate reading possible, according to Dr. Gulati.

1. Do measurements at the same times every day. About half an hour after waking up in
the morning and again in the evening are common times.

2. Avoid caffeine and black licorice for at least 30 minutes before doing the measurements. These foods can cause your BP to momentarily spike.

3. Sit up straight in a chair that has back support. Place both feet on the floor and relax for five minutes.

4. Slightly bend the arm you'll be using, and rest it on a table
so that your upper arm is on the same level as your heart.

5. Wrap the cuff around your arm, above the bend in your elbow.

6. Stay still and quiet—moving or talking can skew your results.

7. Take three readings about one minute apart each.

8. Record the results with the time and date.