At your next doctor visit, don’t be surprised if your doctor seems focused on blood pressure monitoring, including home monitoring.
In early March, the American Heart Association issued an updated scientific statement on blood pressure measurements. While much of the information is geared to how physicians should handle monitoring in the office, it also includes advice about who should be monitoring blood pressure at home. And that might include you.
Knowing your numbers (not just blood pressure but cholesterol and blood glucose) is a crucial way to keep tabs on your health, including your risk for heart disease and diabetes. “We take everyone’s blood pressure in the office,” says Barbara Keber, MD, chair of family medicine at Northwell Health’s Glen Cove Hospital, Glen Cove, NY.
A number of situations may affect your doctor’s decision to suggest home monitoring, she says. Some people have high pressure in the office but say they are simply nervous. Others may already have high blood pressure and the doctor wants to keep a close eye on the numbers. Others may have ”masked hypertension,” with pressure not high in the office but it turns out to be high in other settings.
With numerous options for home monitors, how to pick? “I ask patients to get a blood pressure cuff that fits above the upper part of the arm,” Keber says. That’s preferred by the Heart Association experts, too, over the models that measure pressure at the wrist. Why? With age, the arteries stiffen, she says. “A cuff on the upper arm is closer to the main blood vessel there, the brachial artery,” Keber says. “The farther away the cuff is from that artery, the more inaccurate the reading.”
Heart experts also recommend home devices that can store readings, together with the date and times they were taken, that can be displayed on the screen, printed or transmitted to their doctor.
Keber asks patients to bring their home monitor in to every office visit, and she will check it against her office monitor for accuracy.
The AHA experts recommend using home devices that have been validated by either the British and Irish Hypertension Society or the Dabl Education Trust. Senior Planet headed over to the sites and found the Dabl lists and the Hypertension Society lists for home use.
Then, we randomly picked three devices from that list that measure at the upper arm, as advised by the AHA. (Note: The list doesn’t imply endorsement. Check with your doctor first to see if the monitor you picked is suitable for you.)
Among the many options:
- Panasonic EW3109W. The device has a 90-reading memory and is ultra-compact to fit into drawers, bags and luggage. More details here.
- Braun BP 6200. This monitor includes irregular heartbeat and morning hypertension detection, with an average mode over the past 7 days, morning and evening. More details here.
- A&D UA-767 Plus—The plus is an upgrade of the regular UA-767; it has a large display, last reading recall and one-touch measurement. More details here.
Typically, insurance doesn’t cover home blood pressure monitors; googling can often give you a better price. Some models are under $50. Amazon and the manufacturers’ websites are good sources.
Smart Phone Apps?
While several smart phone apps have been developed to measure blood pressure, the AHA statement says validation studies for most have not been done. To date, the experts say, mobile health apps have shown poor accuracy compared with the recommended home monitors.
Tips for Success for an accurate home reading:
- Rest quietly for at least 5 minutes in a seated position; don’t talk or text during this time.
- Sit with your back supported, feet both flat on floor and legs uncrossed.
- Place the cuff on your bare arm, not over clothes, and directly above the bend in your arm. Support the arm with the cuff on it on a flat surface such as a table.
- Ask your doctor the best time of day for you to measure. and how often. Keber says it depends on the patient. If she’s trying to figure out if a patient has high blood pressure, “I usually tell them several times a week.” Once someone is stabilized, once every week or two may be fine, she says.
Tell us: Do you have a tip, a monitor you love, anything to share about monitoring your blood pressure?