What Exactly Is Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is pretty much what it sounds like: a measure of the pressure of your blood in your circulatory system.
It consists of two numbers. The top number indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when your heart beats, according to the American Heart Association . The bottom number measures the pressure against your artery walls while your heart is resting between beats.
Taken together, these numbers give your doctor a sense of how hard your heart is working and the overall health of your arteries.
Taking Your Blood Pressure
If you have a manual or digital blood pressure monitor, follow the instruction booklet carefully. The following steps provide an overview of how to take your blood pressure using either a manual or digital blood pressure monitor.
1. Locate your pulse
Locate your pulse by lightly pressing your index and middle fingers slightly to the inside center of the bend of the elbow. Here you can feel the pulse of the brachial artery. If you cannot locate a pulse, place the head of the stethoscope or the arm cuff in the same general area.
2. Secure the cuff
A. Thread the cuff end through the metal loop and slide the cuff onto your arm, making sure that the stethoscope head is over the artery. The lower edge of the cuff should be about 1 inch above the bend of your elbow. Use the Velcro wrap to make the cuff snug, but not too tight.
B. Place the stethoscope in your ears. Tilt the earpiece slightly forward to get the best sound.
3. Inflate and deflate the cuff
If you are using a manual monitor:
A. Hold the pressure gauge in your left hand and the bulb in your right.
B. Close the airflow valve on the bulb by turning the screw clockwise.
C. Inflate the cuff by squeezing the bulb with your right hand. You may hear your pulse in the stethoscope.
D. Watch the gauge. Keep inflating the cuff until the gauge reads about 30 points above your expected systolic pressure. At this point, you should not hear your pulse in the stethoscope.
G. Continue to slowly deflate the cuff.
Do You Have To Have A Doctor Measure Your Blood Pressure
If you have hypertension, your doctor will want to check your blood pressure on a regular basis.
But Dr Brewer advised: However, for some people, the stress of visiting the surgery can cause blood pressure to rise. This is known as White coat Hypertension and affects around one in three people with elevated blood pressure. Having white coat hypertension can increase your systolic blood pressure by 20-30 mmHg, and your diastolic blood pressure by 10 mmHg to 20 mmHg.
After a waiting a few minutes, the reading may come down, but in some people the effect persists for an hour or more. If white coat hypertension is suspected, a 24-hour blood pressure monitor that checks your blood pressure at regular intervals may be advised.
At Your Healthcare Provider’s Office
Some people have their blood pressure checked by a healthcare provider on a regular basis. There’s a good chance that these appointments are scheduled at different times of the day.
There’s also a good reason for that. A healthcare provider will do this on purpose to get a range of readings. These multiple readings are then averaged together into one overall result. It is used to give a diagnosis, according to standard guidelines on blood pressure.
Target Your High Blood Pressure
Once you have been diagnosed with hypertension, remember that high blood pressure can be lowered. For most people, blood pressure readings should be lower than 140/90 mmHg when measured in the doctors office. At home, your blood pressure should generally be below 135/85 mmHg. For those people with diabetes or kidney disease, lower blood pressure is even more important and should be below 130/80 mmHg when measured in the doctors office.
Most people who lead healthy lifestyles do not suffer from high blood pressure. For those with hypertension, following the steps outlined above will lower their blood pressure.
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Checking Blood Pressure At Home Pays Off
ARCHIVED CONTENT: As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date each article was posted or last reviewed. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Do-it-yourselfers, take heart. Heres something else to do at home that can have a substantial benefit on your health: measure your blood pressure. Its easy, inexpensive, and helps control blood pressure better than visits to the doctor.
The latest evidence for the benefits of home blood pressure monitoring comes from researchers in Minnesota. They studied 450 people with hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure. All had blood pressures higher than deemed healthyabove 140/90, or above 130/80mmHg if they had diabetes or kidney disease.
About half of the volunteers were given home blood pressure monitors capable of electronically sending readings to a secure website. After being shown how to use their monitors, the volunteers were asked to send six readings each week. That information was assessed by pharmacists, who could adjust medications if needed and offer advice on lifestyle changes that could improve blood pressure. The other volunteers received usual care from their primary care providers.
If You Get A High Blood Pressure Reading
- A single high reading is not an immediate cause for alarm. If you get a reading that is slightly or moderately higher than normal, take your blood pressure a few more times and consult your healthcare professional to verify if there s a health concern or whether there may be any issues with your monitor.
- If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and test again. If your readings are still unusually high, contact your doctor immediately. You could be experiencing a hypertensive crisis.
- If your blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mm Hg and you are experiencing signs of possible organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision, difficulty speaking, do not wait to see if your pressure comes down on its own. Call 911.
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The Need For Home Monitoring
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 3 adults in the United States has high blood pressure, and half of them dont have it under control. High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the United States.
Even though the American Heart Association and other organizations have called for greater use of home blood pressure monitoring, it isnt yet widespread. One reason is that insurance coverage for such programs still lags. Another is that full-fledged efforts like the one in Minnesota could cost $1,350 per person.
What Affects A Blood Pressure Reading
Many things can affect a blood pressure reading, including:
- Nervousness about having your blood pressure taken. This is called white coat syndrome. As many as 1 in 3 people who have a high blood pressure reading at the doctors office may have normal blood pressure readings outside of it.1
- What you ate, drank, or did before your reading. If you smoked, drank alcohol or caffeine, or exercised within 30 minutes of having your blood pressure measured, your reading might be higher.2
- How you are sitting. Crossing your legs and letting your arm droop at your side rather than rest on a table at chest height can make your blood pressure go up.2
Its important to get an accurate blood pressure reading so that you have a clearer picture of your risk for heart disease and stroke.
A reading that says your blood pressure is lower than it actually is may give you a false sense of security about your health. A reading that says your blood pressure is higher than it actually is may lead to treatment you dont need.
What Else Is Important When Checking My Blood Pressure
Many factors can influence your blood pressure reading. The following guidelines will help you get the best and most accurate results from your blood pressure monitoring.
Avoid Blood Pressure Spikers
Certain factors can increase your blood pressure. It is important to understand how these âspikersâ affect your BP numbers. To learn their effect, check your BP before and after you experience each of the factors listed below. Once you know their effect, avoid these spikers before your daily checkup routine. This will prevent them from interrupting your baseline measurement and will allow you to see if your standard BP is stable. As you establish your BP routine, use the following guidelines to control spikes in your readings.
Choose A Good Machine
Myriad choices exist in todayâs marketplace for home blood pressure monitoring devices. Not all are equal. Be sure to choose an FDA-approved device. Once you have selected a machine, it not a bad idea to take it in to your doctorâs office. Take your blood pressure reading in front of your physician, nurse or PA so they can ensure you are using it properly. Have them to take an additional reading on their machine, to compare for accuracy.
Take the Proper Position for Reliable Blood Pressure ReadingsEnsure you are positioned correctly for accurate blood pressure readings. Put your feet on the floor and straighten your back with arms supported at heart level. Make sure your elbow is at about the same level as your heart.
When Should You Check Your Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure changes throughout the day. Generally, it will be lowest when you first wake up and will get higher as you do daily activities.
Since your blood pressure changes throughout the day, its a good idea to take it at least twice. Taking your blood pressure multiple times throughout the day ensures youre getting an accurate reading.
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How Often Should I Check My Blood Pressure If I Have Hypertension
If high blood pressure is well controlled with medication, it is not necessary to check your blood pressure routinely. But when you are first diagnosed, some doctors like to have patients check it two to three times a week while at home to establish a baseline.
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.
What Puts Me At Higher Risk For High Blood Pressure
Your risk for high blood pressure goes up as you get older. Youre also at increased risk for high blood pressure if you:
- Are African American
- Are overweight or have obesity
- Dont get enough physical activity
- Drink too much alcohol
- Dont eat a healthy diet
- Have kidney failure, diabetes, or some types of heart disease
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How Often Should I Check My Blood Pressure
A frequent topic of discussion at the pharmacy is blood pressure. What do the numbers mean? How often should I check my blood pressure? What is the best way to check it? How do medications affect it? There are a lot of misconceptions. Lets break down all of these questions and get you started on a healthy blood pressure monitoring plan.
Where Can I Get A Monitor To Measure My Blood Pressure At Home
You can buy them at pharmacies, medical supply stores, and online. Some insurance companies will pay for it. Medicare does not. Call your insurance company to find out what your plan offers. Flexible spending accounts often can be used to buy a monitor.
Be sure to buy an accurate monitor. Here are two websites for finding accurate monitors:
Your doctor or pharmacist can also help you choose a monitor with a cuff that fits correctly around your arm. They can also teach you how to use it.
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What Is A Blood Pressure Measurement
Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood into your arteries. A blood pressure measurement is a test that measures the force in your arteries as your heart pumps. Blood pressure is measured as two numbers:
- Systolic blood pressure measures pressure inside your arteries when the heart beats.
- Diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure inside the artery when the heart rests between beats.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects tens of millions of adults in the United States. It increases the risk of life-threatening conditions including heart attack and stroke. But high blood pressure rarely causes symptoms. A blood pressure measurement helps diagnose high blood pressure early, so it may be treated before it leads to serious complications.
Other names: blood pressure reading, blood pressure test, blood pressure screening, sphygmomanometry
When To See The Doctor
The doctor should check your monitor at least once a year. This ensures that the measurements are accurate.
Only a doctor can diagnose you with high blood pressure. Contact your doctor if you have high readings for several days. Be sure to take your blood pressure log with you to the visit.
Hypotension is low blood pressure. This occurs when your systolic pressure is consistently below 90 or is 25 points below your normal reading. Contact your doctor if you have low readings. Hypotension can be a sign of shock, which is life threatening. Call your doctor right away if you are dizzy or lightheaded.
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How Can I Measure My Blood Pressure At Home
Talk with your health care team about regularly measuring your blood pressure at home, also called self-measured blood pressure monitoring.
SMBP means you regularly use a personal blood pressure measurement device away from a doctors office or hospitalusually at home. These blood pressure monitors are easy and safe to use. A health care team member can show you how to use one if you need help.
Evidence shows that people with high blood pressure are more likely to lower their blood pressure if they use SMBP combined with support from their health care team than if they dont use SMBP.3
Use these additional tips for SMBP:4
- Use a blood pressure log pdf icon to record your blood pressure measurements.
- Take your blood pressure at the same time every day.
- Take at least two readings, 1 or 2 minutes apart.
At Home With A Monitor
Home monitoring can be a great way to keep track of your blood pressure on a daily basis.
With home monitoring, you can check your blood pressure throughout the day and at times that are convenient for you. It can help you see how your blood pressure changes throughout the day and help you get a sense of your average blood pressure range.
However, youll need to purchase a blood pressure monitor to do this. Youll also need to learn how to use it and how to record accurate readings.
Its not complicated to learn the basics of many home monitors, but it can still be easy to make a mistake.
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What Do I Use To Check My Own Blood Pressure
Checking your blood pressure at home is easy. The most accurate way is to buy a stethoscope and a sphygmomanometer . Advanced training will be needed for this method. I believe todays automatic monitors are accurate enough to where you will not need to learn how to do this. I really just wanted to use the word sphygmomanometer.
Go to the pharmacy and buy a monitor to use at home. There are a lot to choose from. I suggest buying a fully automatic one, meaning all you have to do is put the cuff on and push the button. The machine will do the rest, including recording your results for you. Avoid wrist monitors. They are usually not as accurate as the ones that go around your upper arm.
There are may different models to consider. Some are very basic and just give you a reading with no memory. Some will keep anywhere between 10 and 200 readings in memory so you can track any trends. Others will allow you to track multiple users. The most advanced monitors will automatically sync results to your phone or health apps using bluetooth.
In my next post I will list some specific blood pressure monitors for you and recommend a few based on your budget. Stay tuned for that.
Advantages Of Home Testing
Research has shown that home blood pressure readings are similar to blood pressures recorded by 24-hour ambulatory monitors. These monitors are the gold standard for predicting a person’s risk for heart disease.
Home blood pressure readings may eliminate the white-coat effect. The phrase describes how a person’s blood pressure may rise when they visit their healthcare provider’s office. It is very common.
Your healthcare provider may recommend home blood pressure checks for other reasons besides a careful monitoring for high blood pressure. For instance, they may want to see whether a drug used to control blood pressure is working. Or they may want to look for any changes if you adopt a new low-salt diet.
They may use home blood pressure checks to monitor for low blood pressure in certain people. It also may be useful to monitor for masked hypertension. This happens when your blood pressure is normal at your healthcare provider’s office but it is higher at home.
In the end, though, your healthcare provider will use your home blood pressure readings alongside the office blood pressure readings. They are not meant as a substitute, so be sure to continue seeing your provider for regular checkups.
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