How to Choose and Use a Home Blood Pressure Monitor
I just found out I have stage 1 hypertension and my doctor recommended I get a home blood pressure monitor to keep an eye on it. Can you offer me any tips on choosing and using one?
Everyone with elevated or high blood pressure – stage 1 (or 130/80) and higher – should consider getting a home blood pressure monitor. Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure in a comfortable setting. Plus, if you are taking medication, the monitor will make certain it is working and alert you to a health problem if one arises.
The best type of home blood pressure monitors to purchase are electric/battery powered automatic arm monitors, which are more reliable than wrist or fingertip monitors. With an automatic arm monitor, you simply wrap the cuff around your biceps and, with the push of a button, the cuff automatically inflates and deflates, displaying your blood pressure reading in a matter of seconds.
Today, many monitors come with additional features like irregular heartbeat detection, a risk category indicator that tells you whether your blood pressure is in the high range, a data-averaging function that allows you to take multiple readings and get an overall average, multiple user memory that allows two or more users to save their readings and downloadable memory that lets you transmit your data to your computer or smartphone.
You can find these monitors at pharmacies, medical supply stores or online, and you do not need a prescription to buy one. Prices typically range between $40 and $100.
In most cases, original Medicare will not cover a home blood pressure monitor. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan or a private health insurance policy it is worth checking into because some plans may provide coverage.
How to Measure
After you buy a monitor, it is a good idea to take it to your doctor's office so he or she can check its accuracy and make sure you are using it properly. Here are some additional steps to follow to ensure you get accurate readings at home.
Relax: Do not exercise, smoke or drink caffeinated drinks or alcohol for at least 30 minutes before measuring. Sit quietly for at least five minutes before you take a measurement and remain quiet during the test.
Sit correctly: Sit with your back straight and supported (on a dining chair, rather than a sofa). Your feet should be flat on the floor and your legs should not be crossed. Your arm should be supported on a flat surface (such as a table) with the upper arm at heart level. Make sure the middle of the cuff is placed directly above the bend of the elbow. Check your monitor's instructions for an illustration.
Put the cuff directly on your bare skin: Putting it over clothes can raise your systolic (upper) number by up to 40 mmHg.
Measure at the same time every day: It is important to take the readings at the same time each day, such as in the morning and evening. It does not matter whether you do it before or after taking medication. Just be consistent.
Go to the bathroom: A full bladder can raise your systolic pressure by 10 to 15 mmHg.
Take multiple readings and record the results: Each time you measure, take two or three readings one minute apart and record the results by writing them down, or using an online tracker (see CCCtracker.com).
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.