How to Use Home Blood Pressure Tests

If you suffer from high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, you are not alone. Nearly one in five Americans have the condition. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), uncontrolled high blood pressure—blood pressure that is higher than 140/90 mm Hg—can lead to damage to the heart and coronary arteries. This can ultimately result in heart attack, stroke. and kidney damage, or even kill you.

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend that you get a home blood pressure monitor to help you manage the problem and to make sure that medication is working, as well as alert you to potential problems.

Should You Use One?

Before you go out and buy a home blood pressure monitor, talk to your doctor about which type is best for you, a manual or digital device.

Manual blood pressure monitors use a stethoscope and an inflatable arm cuff connected by a rubber tube to a gauge for readouts. To measure your blood pressure, you pump a bulb at one end of tube to inflate the cuff that goes around your upper arm. You can then check your blood pressure with a stethoscope to listen to the sounds of blood flow through the artery in your upper arm as the pressure decreases in the cuff. Although manual blood pressure devices are less expensive they can be more difficult to use than digital models.

Digital monitors have a cuff that automatically inflates at the touch of a button and a readout gauge to record the pressure. They calculate heart rate and check blood pressure by measuring the motion of your artery as blood flows through it while the cuff deflates.

You should also test the following features to make sure they're right for you:

  • Cuff size. Many home monitors are equipped with different-sized cuffs to fit different arm sizes. A poorly fit cuff will give you an inaccurate blood pressure measurement. Make sure the monitor you buy has a cuff that fits you properly.
  • Display gauge. The blood pressure measurement gauge should be easy to read.
  • Stethoscope. With this type of monitor, you must be able to place the stethoscope in your ears and know how to interpret the sounds you hear.
  • Accuracy. To be sure that your home blood pressure monitor is accurate, bring it to your doctor's office for comparison with the model used there.

Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers, the systolic, or top number, is the higher of the two numbers and measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. Diastolic, or bottom number, is the lower of the two numbers and measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats.

Normal blood pressure is a reading of below 120/80 mm Hg.