Your blood pressure can offer you and your doctor several clues to your overall health. Should you check your blood pressure at home? Why or why not? We'll start off with some basic information about what your blood pressure reading is telling you and how to check your blood pressure, then explore examples of people who may benefit from checking their blood pressure more regularly at home.
Blood Pressure Basics
We've all heard numbers associated with blood pressure, such as 110/60 or 160/80. These tell you how hard your heart is working to push your blood through your blood vessels. The higher the numbers, the harder your heart is working.
However, it's important to understand that a one-time blood pressure reading doesn't give you a full picture; rather, it tells you what your blood pressure is at that one moment. To have a good idea of what your blood pressure is really like, you need to take several readings over the course of a few days.
How to Check Your Blood Pressure
There are many digital blood pressure devices on the market. Select the one that appeals to you, with the knowledge that it's best if you always take your reading with the same machine because there can be differences between machines.
There are some rules for how to check your blood pressure that will help ensure that your reading is as accurate as possible:
- Check the instructions on how to apply the cuff so the sensors can detect the correct measurements.
- Apply the cuff to your bare arm.
- Take your blood pressure at the same time each day.
- Don't smoke, exercise, or consume caffeinated products for about 30 minutes before taking your reading.
- Sit in a relaxed position, with your arm at rest.
- Don't talk while the machine is working.
Experts don't always agree on what a perfect blood pressure reading is, but the general rule of thumb is that the upper number (the systolic) should be around 120 and the lower number (the diastolic) should be around 80. For example, a blood pressure of 80/50 is low and could cause symptoms such as fainting or lightheadedness. On that same note, a blood pressure of 160/90 is high; if your blood pressure is consistently high, your doctor will recommend treatment.
Who Should Check Their Blood Pressure?
While anyone can check their blood pressure, people experiencing certain problems may want to do it at home on a regular basis. This includes people who:
- Feel faint. Do you frequently feel faint or lightheaded? This could be a sign of low blood pressure. If you're concerned, check your blood pressure when you aren't feeling lightheaded and then check it again when you are. Keep a log to see if you can pinpoint whether there's anything going on in your life or with your health that could be causing changes in your blood pressure.
- Have a history of high blood pressure or heart disease. If you have a history of high blood pressure (hypertension) or heart disease, or are taking medications for your blood pressure or heart, taking your blood pressure regularly can help your doctor understand how the treatment is working.
- Have white coat syndrome. Some people have normal blood pressure readings except when they go to a doctor's office. Their blood pressure may read high — sometimes very high — but once they leave, it goes back down. This may be a sign of white coat syndrome, which involves feeling anxiety related to getting medical care. Your blood pressure rises because of the stress related to having a doctor or nurse take it. In cases like this, you can show your doctor what your blood pressure is normally by taking it regularly at home and keeping a log.
If you have any questions about how to check your blood pressure or whether you should be doing so more regularly, be sure to check with your physician or advanced-practice clinician.