For the 67 million Americans with high blood pressure, they may not feel any different when their blood pressure is elevated. Often referred to as the “silent killer” hypertension, or high blood pressure, usually has no warning signs or symptoms. That is why it is important to have regular physical exams with your primary care physician to be aware of any changes in your blood pressure – a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. If you are diagnosed with hypertension, your PCP or cardiologist may recommend that you monitor your blood pressure on a more regular basis at home with a blood pressure monitor.
Benefits of Home Blood Pressure Monitoring
Taking your blood pressure within the comforts of your own home and at any time you need, can help produce more accurate results, especially if you feel more anxious having your blood pressure checked in the doctor’s office. If the readings are consistently within the normal range (less than 120/80 mm Hg), then your health care provider can be more certain that you do not have pre-hypertension or hypertension. If your readings are within the range of 120/80 mm Hg to 140/90 mm Hg, then your health care provider will likely discuss lifestyle modifications to help better manage your blood pressure. Readings greater than 140/90 mm Hg are of concern, and your health care provider may also recommend medication therapies in addition to lifestyle modifications.
Additionally, monitoring your blood pressure at home allows you to see more easily what may trigger spikes in your blood pressure – high sodium foods, caffeine, smoking and stress, for example. Track your readings to see how well you are managing your blood pressure through lifestyle modifications and medication. Not only will this help as motivation to reduce high blood pressure in the early stages of pre-hypertension, it will also provide valuable information in between doctor visits. It also provides a window into your heart health to help manage the risk factors for heart disease and stroke, affecting your long-term health.
Type of Blood Pressure Monitors
You have a few choices when it comes to taking your blood pressure readings at home. If you only need daily or weekly monitoring, you can decide between manual or digital blood pressure monitors. All blood pressure monitors come with a cuff, gauge and some also have a stethoscope. If your health care provider requires more continuous monitoring, you can use an ambulatory blood pressure monitor, which is a small device worn throughout the day taking readings every 15 to 30 minutes. These are recommended for people who have what is referred to as “white coat syndrome”, in which their blood pressure naturally rises when they know their blood pressure is being taken either in the office or other settings. This will help to get more accurate readings for those patients.
Manual Blood Pressure Monitor
Manual devices are similar to what you see in the doctor’s office. An inflatable arm cuff goes on the least dominant arm (typically the left arm) and is connected to a rubber tube to the gauge to read the pressure. You pump the rubber bulb to inflate the cuff, and then take your blood pressure with the stethoscope. While manual monitors are often less expensive than digital monitors, they are also more difficult to use.
Digital Blood Pressure Monitor
Digital monitors work the same was as a manual monitor, however, the cuff inflates by pushing a button. Automatically, the reading is taken and appears on a digital screen. An added benefit to digital monitors is that they will also tell you your heart rate. Worn on the arm, wrist or finger, there are a variety of digital monitors on the market. Talk to your health care provider about which one would be best for you if you choose to purchase a digital monitor.
We should also mention the use of public blood pressure monitors, like those you see in the waiting areas of pharmacies. While these are free to the public, they may not always be accurate. It is best to have your own blood pressure monitor for home use. Also, it is a good idea to take your monitor into your next doctor’s visit to make sure you are using it correctly and that it is operating properly. In some cases, insurance will cover the cost of a blood pressure monitor for home use.