Learn how to monitor your blood pressure at home with these tips

Millions of Americans have high blood pressure, also called hypertension. If you’re one of them, your doctor has probably asked you to monitor your numbers at home.

Before you buy a home blood pressure monitor, find out why it’s important to keep track of your numbers at home and how to choose a monitor based on your needs.

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What Is Normal Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure falls into one of three categories, and regular screenings can help you find out if your numbers are normal or high:

  • 120/80 mmHg or lower most of the time = normal
  • More than 120/80 mmHg, but lower than 140/90 mmHg most of the time = pre-hypertension
  • 140/90 mmHg or higher most of the time = high blood pressure, or hypertension

In some cases, though, just being in the doctor’s office can make your blood pressure go up. Many people have “white coat hypertension,” or high blood pressure that happens only in a medical setting.

Because of this, and the natural changes in blood pressure throughout the day, home readings can give your doctor better information about your numbers. Home monitoring can also help your doctor understand how well your blood pressure is controlled once you’ve begun a treatment plan.

“Some patients may have normal blood pressure in one morning, but higher levels at night or the next day,” said Matthew Muldoon, MD, director of the Hypertension Program at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.

“In those cases, we have the benefit of several morning and evening readings over several days, and can determine his or her average BP and any pattern specific to that patient.”

Blood Pressure Home Monitoring

To check your blood pressure at home, you’ll need a monitor to take your readings and a tracker for writing them down, like this free printable blood pressure tracker from the American Heart Association. Each time you take a reading:

  • Sit at a desk or table in a straight-backed chair, with both feet flat on the floor. 
  • Rest for five minutes; you can read or listen to music during this time if you like. 
  • Apply the cuff snugly around your left arm if you're right-handed, or around your right arm if you're left-handed. 
  • Take one reading, writing down both your systolic and diastolic numbers and your pulse. 
  • Wait 30 seconds and take a second reading, then write down those numbers as well. 

In the morning, take your blood pressure within an hour after you wake, before you exercise or have breakfast. In the evening, take your blood pressure an hour after dinner or exercise, but no more than an hour before going to bed.

Choosing a Blood Pressure Monitor

Not all home monitors are accurate, but you can ask your doctor what type is best for you. Along with the American Heart Association, Dr. Muldoon and his team at the Hypertension Program recommend automatic, cuff-style monitors that wrap around your upper arm instead of wrist or fingertip monitors.

In some cases, medical insurance might cover the cost of a blood pressure monitor, so it’s a good idea to contact your insurance company before making a purchase.

“No matter what brand you choose, have the monitor checked by your doctor before you use it for the first time, then have it checked every year afterward to make sure it’s accurate,” Dr. Muldoon said.

Once your numbers are in a healthy range, it’s important to stay on your treatment plan. Keep up with your lifestyle changes, and never stop taking your medicine without talking to your doctor first.

To learn more, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.