Take your blood pressure the right way

Do you need to monitor your blood pressure at home? Here’s what you need to know about buying a cuff, taking measurements, and decoding those numbers.

Man measuring his blood pressure

If you’re not sure whether you have high blood pressure (HBP), it’s time to get checked. Your risk increases with age, according to Martha Gulati, M.D., of the American College of Cardiology. Genetics can also play a role in how high or low your blood pressure is, in addition to lifestyle factors, such as your diet, activity level, and if you’re a smoker. 

But did you know that a doctor’s office isn’t the only place that you can monitor your blood pressure? The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that anyone with high blood pressure should monitor their readings at home. Here’s how to do it.


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

How to screen at home

You’ll want to purchase a monitor that will be accurate and easy for you to use. Avoid those that wrap around your wrist, Dr. Gulati says; they don’t always give you true readings. Instead, she recommends a cuff-based monitor. These can range from $25 to $100. The two most common types of monitors measure pressure via an arm cuff:

  1. 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’s a learning curve.
  2. 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 your readings. Some provide charts, making it easy to spot trends.

When in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist for their recommendations and discuss the correct cuff size for you.

Understand what your blood pressure numbers mean

Follow the latest AHA guidelines below. Depending on your numbers, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or medication to help manage your blood pressure.





less than 120
— and —
less than 80

from 120 to 129
— and —
less than 80

from 130 to 139
— and —
from 80 to 89

at least 140
— and —
at least 90

Keep eating healthily
and exercising.

Start to make
healthier lifestyle

Make lifestyle changes
and, in some cases,
take medication.

Make lifestyle changes,
take medication, and see your
doctor for regular follow-ups.

Strategies for accurate at-home readings

Blood pressure varies throughout the day. It can also spike in response to something you ate or sudden stress. Get the most accurate and consistent readings with tips from the AHA.

  1. Measure at the same time every day. Remember, too: Don’t take the measurement over clothes, and make sure the bottom of the cuff is directly above the bend in your elbow. Follow your monitor’s instructions.
  2. Take multiple readings. When you measure, take two or three readings about one minute apart. Record your numbers so you can bring them with you to your next doctor’s appointment.
  3. Leave a half-hour window. Avoid smoking, drinking caffeinated beverages, or exercising within 30 minutes of measuring your blood pressure.
  4. Stay still and quiet. Empty your bladder and rest in silence for at least five minutes before taking your measurement.
  5. Sit correctly. Choose a chair that has back support (for example, a dining room chair rather than a sofa). Place both feet on the floor and rest your arm on the table with your upper arm at the same level as your heart.