According to research from the American Heart Association, roughly half of U.S. adults should be taking their blood pressure routinely at home.
This is especially important for people who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, and for individuals whose doctors are trying to figure out if they have it, says internist Michael Hochman, director of the Gehr Family Center for Health Systems Science at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles. “This way you can make sure that you’re on the right medications, at the appropriate doses, or, on the flip side, that you’re not taking medications unnecessarily,” he says.
Strapping on that arm cuff monitor at home can also paint a more accurate picture of your blood pressure than occasional office visits alone. At a doctor’s office, many people experience “white coat hypertension,” where their blood pressure shoots up in a way it doesn’t when they take a reading from home. And about one-third of American adults encounter the reverse, called masked hypertension, which means getting normal readings at a physician’s office but higher ones at home.
Because of these variations, as well as a number of other reasons, experts say that people whose blood pressure is creeping up into the range of 130/80 mm Hg, which is considered high, should make sure they’re monitoring themselves at home. The consequences of unmanaged hypertension can be serious, and include heart attack, stroke, organ damage — even dementia.
Here are five tips for taking your own blood pressure:
1. Buy a good model
Home blood pressure monitors come in arm cuff, wrist cuff and finger models. Of the three, an automatic upper-arm cuff-style model is the way to go, advises Luke Laffin, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. (Wrist and finger models produce less reliable readings.) Make sure the cuff fits: If it’s too large or small, you could get the wrong reading. The website www.validatebp.org from the American Medical Association lists devices that have been validated for accuracy.
If you can’t afford to buy a monitor, check to see where you can get a blood pressure reading in your community. Many pharmacies or grocery stores have blood pressure machines that customers can use for free, the American Heart Association says.