Nearly half of all U.S. adults have hypertension, or high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But only 24% have their blood pressure under control.
If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to make sure treatment and lifestyle changes are working. That’s because high blood pressure increases your risk of both heart disease and stroke, leading causes of death in the U.S. Maintaining good blood pressure helps protect your heart.
One of the problems is that high blood pressure often doesn’t have any signs or symptoms. Taking your blood pressure at home — known as self-measured blood pressure (SMBP) monitoring — can help you keep your blood pressure in check.
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Who Should Measure Their Blood Pressure at Home?
People who use SMBP (with support from their doctor) are more likely to lower their blood pressure than those who don’t.
Both the American Heart Association and the American Medical Association recommend adding SMBP to blood pressure treatment plans. They also recommend SMBP to confirm whether you have high blood pressure.
Here’s another reason SMBP is helpful: During a doctor’s visit one in three people experience what’s known as “white coat hypertension.” That when a person’s blood pressure spikes because they’re anxious or nervous. But outside of the doctor’s office, their blood pressure is normal.
Taking blood pressure readings at home can help doctors determine who needs treatment and who doesn’t. “Monitoring your blood pressure at home can help with early diagnosis, track your treatment, and encourage better blood pressure control,” said Darcie Desiderio, DNP, UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.
People can also have “masked hypertension.” That’s when you have a normal blood pressure readings at your doctor’s office but have high blood pressure readings at home. This false positive can cause hypertension to go untreated.
Blood pressure monitoring is also recommended for pregnant women with hypertension or an elevated risk of preeclampsia.
How Can I Check My Blood Pressure at Home?
You might wonder: Can you take your blood pressure manually by yourself? The answer is yes. But there are steps you should follow to get the most accurate reading.
First, get an accurate blood pressure machine
Before you can take your blood pressure at home, you’ll need to buy a blood pressure monitor. The AHA recommends an automatic, cuff-style, bicep monitor. These go over your upper arm.
These monitors are similar to the blood pressure machines used in doctor’s office and offer the most reliable reading. You can buy these at any pharmacy, medical supply store, or online.
The AHA also recommends buying a validated monitor. These are machines that have gone through an independent review process to check for clinical accuracy. Your doctor or pharmacist can offer recommendations, or you can find validated machines through the U.S. Blood Pressure Validated Device Listing.
Choose the right cuff size for you. Measure your upper arm to find a monitor with the right cuff size.
Be sure to buy the right cuff for your age or health situation. For example, there are monitors calibrated for children and pregnant women.
Once you have a monitor, you can also ask your doctor if they can check the machine’s accuracy against their machine. They can do this by checking your blood pressure with their machine and then checking it again with your monitor. During this appointment, your doctor or nurse can also make sure you know how to use your blood pressure monitor.
General tips to follow
In general, the AHA recommends taking your blood pressure daily beginning two weeks after you start any new treatment. They also recommend taking your blood pressure daily the week before your next doctor’s appointment. Other general tips:
- Ask your doctor how often to take your blood pressure.
- Take your blood pressure at the same time every day.
- Take at least two readings, one or two minutes apart.
- Keep a blood pressure log to record your readings. The CDC has downloadable log sheets in both English and Spanish. Some blood pressure monitors also allow you to download your readings to a smartphone app.
- Share your logs with your doctor at your next appointment, or at an agreed upon schedule. A series of readings can provide a better picture of your heart health than just one blood pressure reading every year. It can help your doctor see if your treatment is working or if they need to change it.
Tips to follow before taking your blood pressure
There are several things you need to do before you can take your blood pressure.
- Don’t eat, drink, smoke, or do any exercise 30 minutes before.
- Empty your bladder at least five minutes before.
- Get at least five minutes of quiet rest before.
Tips to follow during your blood pressure reading
What you do during the reading can also affect the result. Be sure to:
- Sit up in a comfortable chair (not a sofa) with good back support.
- Put both feet flat on the ground, keeping your legs uncrossed.
- Rest your arm with the cuff on the table at chest height. Letting it drop to your side can increase your blood pressure reading.
- Roll up your sleeve so the machine cuff rests against your bare skin.
- Don’t put the cuff over your clothing. This can add 10 to 40 mm/Hg to your reading.
- Wrap the cuff around your arm so that it’s snug, but not tight.
- Remain still and don’t talk while the machines takes your blood pressure.
Should you take your blood pressure with fingers?
Is there a way to check your blood pressure without a machine that wraps around your arm? Other devices, including smart phones, claim to take blood pressure with your fingers or wrist. But there isn’t solid evidence yet on their accuracy.
The AHA does not recommend using wrist or finger devices to check your blood pressure. That’s because these devices don’t provide reliable readings.
Who Should Avoid Using Home Blood Pressure Monitors?
There’s no danger with taking your blood pressure at home. But using a home blood pressure monitor doesn’t work for everyone.
People with atrial fibrillation (AFIB) or other heart rhythm problems may not get accurate blood pressure measurements from home monitoring devices. If you have AFIB or other arrhythmia ask your doctor which home blood pressure device would work best for you.
Heart Disease Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Measure Your Blood Pressure. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Facts About Hypertension. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
American Heart Association and American Medical Association urge broader adoption of self-measured blood pressure monitoring. American Heart Association. Link.
Monitoring Your Blood Pressure At Home. American Heart Association. Link.
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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.