DIY Blood Pressure Monitoring

Your doctor probably doesn't encourage a do-it-yourself approach to medical care generally. But one area where he's likely to make an exception is in monitoring your blood pressure.

Research shows that averaging blood pressure readings you take at home with those taken by a physician can help determine whether you need to be on medication for high blood pressure.

Before you slap on that cuff, though, be sure you know how to take a precise blood pressure reading. Essentially, there are three steps to keep in mind:

Step 1: Get the right equipment.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends using an automatic blood pressure monitor with a cuff that wraps around your upper-arm (bicep). Wrist or finger monitors, according to the AHA, are less accurate.

When it comes to choosing a specific monitor, consider these questions:

  • Is it a validated monitor?
    A validated monitor has passed clinical tests. You can check the AHA web site, for lists of validated devices. And remember, expensive does not equal accurate. You don't have to buy the costliest monitor to get a correct reading.
  • Will it meet your needs?
    Some monitors are fine for the general population; others are specifically for pregnant women, children, seniors, or other special groups. Be sure the one you choose is validated for home use and your condition.
  • Does it fit?
    Measure your bicep before selecting a monitor. According to the Blood Pressure Association, arms measuring 7.1 to 8.7 inches will need a small cuff, arms 8.8 to 12.8 inches will need a medium, and arms 12.8 to 18 inches will need a large. If your arm is smaller or larger than standard sizes ask your pharmacy about ordering a monitor directly from the manufacturer.

Step 2: Follow the instructions.
Follow the instructions included with your device and remember a few guidelines:

  • Have paper and pen handy.
    As soon as you take the reading, you'll want to write down the reading, date, and time it was taken. Recording all your blood pressure readings in one place will help you track overall patterns.
  • Sit up.
    This is the time to practice good posture. Sit in a supported chair with your back straight, feet flat. The lower part of the arm you are putting the monitor on should lie on a flat surface and the upper part of that arm should be level with your heart.
  • Line up the monitor.
    Using your index and middle fingers, locate the pulse of your brachial artery around the bend in your elbow. Place the middle of the cuff directly over this artery.
  • Take your reading.
    If your reading seems especially high or low wait one or two minutes and do it again.

Step 3: Be aware of what can throw readings off.
Factors like the stress of being in a doctor's office can impact your blood pressure, so monitoring at home can offer a better snapshot of your natural state.

Yet, even relaxed at home, there are factors that can affect your blood pressure. When possible avoid triggers like smoking, cold temperatures, exercising or eating just before taking a reading, drinking caffeine, or taking medication that might affect your blood pressure. You might also try taking a reading around the same time each day to ensure accuracy.

Sources:
"How to choose the right blood pressure monitor." Blood Pressure Association. Web. November 21, 2011.

Powers, Benjamin J., MD, MHS. "Measuring Blood Pressure for Decision Making and Quality Reporting: Where and How Many Measures?" Annals of Internal Medicine 154.12 (2011): 781-788. Web. November 21, 2011.

"Symptoms, Diagnosing & Monitoring of High Blood Pressure." The American Heart Association. Web. November 21, 2011.