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Testing your blood pressure in the doctor’s office and at home

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018 | by

Why do doctors test your blood pressure?

Hypertension or high blood pressure (HBP) is the biggest risk factor for heart disease and stroke, so taking your blood pressure helps prevent a wide range of cardiovascular diseases and conditions. HBP can lead to heart attack, congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis, stroke, and other conditions from kidney problems to respiratory disorders.

It’s because of the wide-reaching effects of blood pressure that doctors make a blood pressure check part of every appointment. You should have a blood pressure check at least every two years, and more often if your doctor recommends.

 

How do doctors test for high blood pressure?

Doctors use a sphygmomanometer to take systolic and diastolic measurements, the phases when the heart pumps blood and then rests.

A cuff fits over the wrist or upper arm and inflates, constricting the arteries. When the air is released, the first sound detected with a stethoscope or automated blood pressure monitor is the systolic pressure. The silence that follows marks the diastolic pressure.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), nervousness or “white coat syndrome” can result in an abnormally high blood pressure during the office visit. On the flip side, someone who’s usually hypertensive can have an atypically lower reading on the day they visit their doctor. These are two reasons home blood pressure monitoring can give a more wholistic picture.

 

Why would doctors recommend home blood pressure monitoring?

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends home blood pressure monitoring for anyone with high blood pressure. This applies to almost half of all U.S. adults or about 103 million people. New blood pressure guidelines have increased awareness of the prevalence of hypertension, nearly tripling the number of men aged 20 to 44 and almost doubling the number of women under 45 identified as hypertensive.

Whether they’re being proactive about future high blood pressure or keeping an eye on an existing hypertensive condition, home monitoring is a way for anyone to take charge of their heart health.

 

How to use a blood pressure monitor at home

There are a variety of home blood pressure monitors available, including wrist and upper arm devices. Some blood pressure monitors let you share your results with a doctor from any location.

When to take your blood pressure:

  • Measure your blood pressure at least twice a day
  • Take the first measurement in the morning
  • Don’t take it right after you wake up
  • Measure your blood pressure before eating or taking medication
  • Take the second reading in the evening
  • Take two or three readings each time you measure to make sure the results are accurate

How to get the best reading when using a blood pressure monitor:

  • Avoid food and caffeine for 30 minutes before measuring
  • A full bladder can affect your numbers
  • Sit quietly for a few minutes before your reading
  • Keep your legs and ankles uncrossed
  • Keep your back supported
  • Don’t talk while taking your BP
  • Always use the same arm
  • Rest your arm at heart level
  • Put the cuff on bare skin
  • Don’t roll your sleeves up too tightly

 

What your blood pressure numbers mean

A blood pressure reading shows up as two numbers, with the top number representing the systolic pressure and the bottom showing the diastolic pressure.

For a normal reading, the systolic number should be less than 120 and the diastolic one less than 80.

If your numbers don’t line up with those measurements, don’t be alarmed. Just check in with your doctor for advice. Meanwhile there are many lifestyle habits you can adopt to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

 

Blood Pressure
Category
Systolic mmHg
(top number)
 
Diastolic mmHg
(bottom number)

Normal
Less than 120
and
Less than 80

Elevated
120 to 129
and
Less than 80

High blood pressure
Hypertension stage 1
130 to 139
or
80 to 89

High blood pressure
Hypertension stage 2
140 or higher
or
90 or higher

Hypertensive emergency
See your doctor right away
higher than 180
and/
or
Higher than 120

*ACC/AHA 2017 High Blood Pressure Clinical Practice Guideline

 

When it comes to managing blood pressure, there’s nothing to lose

You can prevent high blood pressure, and related problems like stroke, by getting enough exercise, eating fruits and vegetables, not smoking, and avoiding unhealthy fats. These habits are also great for your heart and can even improve your mood.

For other ways to feel great about healthy blood pressure and a healthy heart, join us in Going for Zero™.