Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×

Search

Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Monitoring Your Blood Pressure at Home

Why it's so important and how to do it right


spinner image white line
Video: How to Read Your Own Blood Pressure

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.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership

LIMITED TIME OFFER

Flash Sale! Join AARP today for $16 per year. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.

Join Now

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 attackstroke, 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.

2. Make sure it’s accurate

Before using a monitor for the first time, have your doctor’s office check it against their model, says Laffin. A 2016 study found that about a third of home blood pressure monitors were off by at least five points. “We usually check a patient’s blood pressure with our machine, then about two minutes later check it on their monitor,” he says. “If their systolic [upper number] reading is within about 10 mm, it’s accurate enough to use.” Also a good idea: Have a doctor or nurse observe you taking your own blood pressure reading, to make sure you’re doing it correctly.

See more Health & Wellness offers >

For expert tips to help feel your best, get AARP’s monthly Health newsletter.

3. Prep beforehand

You shouldn’t smoke, consume caffeine or exercise within 30 minutes of checking your blood pressure. If you have to urinate, do so before taking a reading. Measuring blood pressure with a full bladder can add 10 to 15 points to your reading, according to the American Heart Association.

How you sit also matters. Slouching or sitting with your back or feet unsupported can raise your reading by six to 10 points, and crossed legs can increase your reading by anywhere from two to eight points.

For the best results, sit in a chair with your back supported, feet flat, and legs uncrossed. Your arm should be supported on a flat surface (such as a table) with the upper arm at heart level. Don’t multitask during the reading either. Talking to your partner or chatting on the phone while taking your blood pressure can add 10 to 15 points to your number. Stay silent and still. Finally, put the cuff on bare skin — strapping it on top of clothing, rather than a bare arm, can add 10-40 mm Hg to a measurement.

4. Be consistent

If you’re monitoring your blood pressure at home, make sure you take it at the same time daily. And typically, you only need to check it once a day.

“I have many patients who are overzealous and take their blood pressure three to four times a day, which drives them nuts because it’s impossible to make sure that you’ve been doing all the things you’re supposed to do — like resting for five minutes and cutting out caffeine for 30 minutes — that many times a day,” says Anuradha Lala-Trindade, a cardiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Category

Systolic Blood Pressure

Diastolic Blood Pressure

Normal 

<120 mm Hg

 <80 mm Hg

Elevated 

120-129 mm Hg

 <80 mm Hg

Stage 1 Hypertension

130-139 mm Hg

80-89 mm Hg

Stage 2 Hypertension

≥140 mm Hg

 ≥90 mm Hg

5. Take multiple readings at one time

While you typically only need to sit down and check your blood pressure once a day, the American Heart Association recommends taking two or three readings one minute apart and recording the results when you do. (You can use this printable tracker [PDF], for example.) This will allow you to keep a record that you can bring to your appointments. Some monitors also allow you to upload your readings to a secure website.

If any one reading seems off, don’t throw it away. Keep it with the rest and talk to your doctor about it at your next appointment. If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and test again. If the next reading is still unusually high, contact your doctor immediately.

This story was updated with new information on March 30, 2023.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?