Features to consider

When choosing a blood pressure monitor, consider:

  • Cuff size. Having a properly fitting cuff is the most important factor to consider because poorly fitting cuffs will not give accurate blood pressure measurements. Ask your doctor or nurse what cuff size you need.
  • Display. The display that shows your blood pressure measurement should be clear and easy to read.
  • Cost. Prices vary. Ask your health insurance provider if your policy covers the cost of a home blood pressure monitor.

Device accuracy

Before buying a blood pressure monitor, check with your doctor to be sure the monitor has been validated — meaning its readings are accurate and repeatable. Once a year, check the accuracy of your monitor by bringing it to your doctor's office and comparing your monitor's readings with those taken by the doctor.

One way to choose an accurate monitor is to check the lists of validated home blood pressure monitors available from the Dabl Educational Trust and the British Hypertension Society. These organizations have tested many types of monitors and post their findings on their websites.

Tips for accurate use

No matter what type of home blood pressure monitor you choose, proper use requires training and practice. Take the device to your doctor or nurse to make sure the one you've chosen is the best fit for you, and learn how to use the monitor correctly.

To help ensure accurate blood pressure monitoring at home:

  • Check your device's accuracy. Before using a monitor for the first time, have your doctor check its accuracy against the office model. Also have your doctor watch you use the device to see if you're doing it properly. If you drop the device or damage it, have it checked before using it again.
  • Measure your blood pressure twice daily. The first measurement should be in the morning before eating or taking any medications, and the second in the evening. Each time you measure, take two or three readings to make sure your results are accurate. Your doctor might recommend taking your blood pressure at the same times each day.
  • Don't measure your blood pressure right after you wake up. You can prepare for the day, but don't eat breakfast or take medications before measuring your blood pressure. If you exercise after waking, take your blood pressure before exercising.
  • Avoid food, caffeine, tobacco and alcohol for 30 minutes before taking a measurement. Also, go to the toilet first. A full bladder can increase blood pressure slightly.
  • Sit quietly before and during monitoring. When you're ready to take your blood pressure, sit for five minutes in a comfortable position with your legs and ankles uncrossed and your back supported against a chair. Try to be calm and not think about stressful things. Don't talk while taking your blood pressure.
  • Make sure your arm is positioned properly. Always use the same arm when taking your blood pressure. Rest your arm, raised to the level of your heart, on a table, desk or chair arm. You might need to place a pillow or cushion under your arm to elevate it high enough.
  • Place the cuff on bare skin, not over clothing. Rolling up a sleeve until it tightens around your arm can result in an inaccurate reading, so you may need to slip your arm out of the sleeve.
  • Take a repeat reading. Wait for one to three minutes after the first reading, and then take another to check accuracy. If your monitor doesn't automatically log blood pressure readings or heart rates, write them down.

Blood pressure varies throughout the day, and readings are often a little higher in the morning. Also, your blood pressure might be slightly lower at home than in a medical office, typically by about five points.

Contact your doctor if you have any unusual or persistent increases in your blood pressure. Ask your doctor what reading should prompt an immediate call to the medical office.

Tracking your blood pressure readings

Some people record their blood pressure readings by hand.

If you have an electronic personal health record, you might choose to record your information using a computer or mobile device. This gives you the option of sharing your readings with your health care providers and family members. Some blood pressure monitors upload this data automatically.

Long-term benefits

If your blood pressure is well-controlled, you might need to check it at home only a few days each month. If you're just starting home monitoring, if you're making any changes in your medications or other treatments, or if you have another health problem, such as diabetes, you might need to check it more often.

Home blood pressure monitoring is not a substitute for visits to your doctor. Even if you get normal readings, don't stop or change your medications or alter your diet without talking to your doctor first. However, if continued home monitoring shows your blood pressure is under control, you might be able to make fewer appointments with your doctor.

Monitoring your blood pressure at home doesn't have to be complicated or inconvenient. In the long run, you might risk fewer complications related to high blood pressure and enjoy a healthier life.

June 25, 2015 See more In-depth