Get the most out of home blood pressure monitoring

Checking your blood pressure at home is an important part of managing high blood pressure. Find out how to use home monitors accurately. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Checking your blood pressure at home is an important part of managing high blood pressure (hypertension). The American Heart Association and other organizations recommend anyone who has high blood pressure monitor his or her blood pressure at home. Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure in a familiar setting, make certain your medication is working, and alert you and your doctors to potential health complications.

Because blood pressure monitors are available widely and without a prescription, home monitoring is an easy step you can take to improve your condition. Before you get started, it's important to know the right technique and to find a good home blood pressure monitor.

Why do I need to monitor my blood pressure at home?

Monitoring your blood pressure at home offers several benefits. It can:

  • Help make an early diagnosis of high blood pressure. If you have prehypertension, or another condition that could contribute to high blood pressure, such as diabetes or kidney problems, home blood pressure monitoring could help your doctor diagnose high blood pressure earlier than if you have only infrequent blood pressure readings in the doctor's office.
  • Help track your treatment. Home blood pressure monitoring can help people of all ages keep track of their condition — including children and teenagers who have high blood pressure. Self-monitoring provides important information between visits to your doctor. The only way to know whether your lifestyle changes or your medications are working is to check your blood pressure regularly. Keeping track of changes can help you and your health care team make decisions about your ongoing treatment strategy, such as adjusting dosages or changing medications.
  • Encourage better control. Taking your own blood pressure measurements can result in better blood pressure control. You gain a stronger sense of responsibility for your health, and you may be even more motivated to control your blood pressure with an improved diet, physical activity and proper medication use.
  • Cut your health care costs. Home monitoring may cut down on the number of visits you need to make to your doctor or clinic. This can reduce your overall health care costs, lower your travel expenses and save in lost wages.
  • Check if your blood pressure is different outside the doctor's office. Your doctor may suspect that your blood pressure goes up due to the anxiety associated with being at the doctor's office, but is otherwise normal — a condition called white coat hypertension. Monitoring blood pressure at home or work, where that kind of anxiety won't cause those spikes, can help see if you have true high blood pressure or simply white coat hypertension.

    Home and workplace monitoring may also help when the opposite occurs — your blood pressure seems fine at the doctor's office, but is elevated elsewhere. This kind of high blood pressure, sometimes called masked hypertension, is more common in women and those who have cardiovascular risk factors, such as obesity, high blood cholesterol and high blood sugar.

Not everyone can track blood pressure at home. If you have an irregular heartbeat, home blood pressure monitors might not give you an accurate reading. In some cases, the type of monitor you use could depend on your physical condition. If you're overweight or very muscular, you'll need to find a monitor with a larger arm cuff. If you have hearing loss, a monitor with a digital display may be more suitable.

Talk to your doctor, nurse or other health care professional about whether home monitoring is a good option. Keep in mind that a family member or friend who is properly trained may be able to take blood pressure measurements for you.

Types of home monitors

Today, most pharmacies, medical supply stores and some Internet sites sell home blood pressure monitors. All monitors have the same basic parts — an inflatable cuff or strap, a gauge for readouts, and sometimes a stethoscope, depending on the type of monitor you choose.

  • Cuff. The cuff consists of an inner layer made of rubber that fills with air and squeezes your arm. The cuff's outer layer is generally made of nylon and has a fastener to hold the cuff in place.
  • Gauge. Blood pressure monitors are either digital or aneroid. The aneroid monitors have a gauge with a dial on it that points at a number related to your blood pressure. Some older gauges look similar to a thermometer and contain mercury. Mercury devices should never be used in the home.
  • Stethoscope. Some blood pressure monitors come with a stethoscope. It's used to listen to the sounds your blood makes as it flows through the brachial artery in the crook of your elbow. However, without proper training, it's difficult to interpret those sounds. Digital blood pressure cuffs usually have a built-in sensor that records the information for you.

There are two types of home blood pressure monitors:

  • Manual devices. Manual blood pressure monitors use a stethoscope and an inflatable arm cuff connected by a rubber tube to a gauge that records the pressure. To measure your blood pressure, you inflate the cuff that goes around your arm by pumping a bulb at one end of the tube. You then check your blood pressure with a stethoscope — listening to the sounds of blood flowing through the main artery in your upper arm as the pressure decreases in the cuff. Manual monitors are usually less expensive than digital monitors, but can be more difficult to use.
  • Digital devices. Digital monitors have a cuff and a gauge that records the pressure. The cuff automatically inflates at the touch of a button. These devices automatically calculate heart rate and check your blood pressure by measuring the changes in the motion of your artery as the blood flows through the artery while the cuff deflates. Some even give you an error message if you aren't wearing the cuff properly. Digital monitors also deflate automatically.

    Digital monitors can be fitted on the upper arm, wrist or finger. Arm devices are the most accurate. One use for wrist monitors is for those people for whom a large upper arm cuff is too small or can't be used because of shape or pain from the pressure of the cuff when it inflates. Be sure your arm is at heart level when using a wrist monitor. Devices that measure your blood pressure at your finger are not recommended.

Talk over the choices with your doctor or nurse so that you pick the monitor that's best for your situation.

Public blood pressure machines

Public blood pressure machines, such as those found in pharmacies, may not be accurate. They may not have been properly maintained, and the cuff may not be the correct size for you, depending on the size of your arm. You shouldn't rely on public blood pressure machines to regularly measure your blood pressure.

July 07, 2012 See more In-depth