Home Blood Pressure Test

Home Blood Pressure Test

Test Overview

Using a home blood pressure monitor lets you keep track of your
blood pressure at home. Blood pressure is a measure of
how hard the blood pushes against the walls of your arteries as it moves through your body.

Your blood
pressure is recorded as two numbers.

  • The first number shows how hard the blood pushes when the heart is pumping. This is the systolic pressure.
  • The second number shows how hard the blood pushes between heartbeats, when the heart is relaxed and filling with blood. This is the diastolic pressure.

Someone with a systolic pressure of 120 and a diastolic pressure of 80 has a blood pressure of 120/80, or “120 over 80.” Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

Automatic blood pressure monitors

Most people use an automatic monitor to measure their blood pressure at home. These are also called electronic or digital monitors. They have a microphone to
detect blood pulsing in the artery. The cuff wraps around your upper arm. It automatically inflates when you press the start button.

This is the type of blood pressure
monitor most often found in supermarkets, drugstores, and shopping malls.

Monitors used on the wrist aren’t as reliable as those that use arm cuffs. Wrist monitors should be used only by people who can’t use arm cuffs for physical reasons. And devices that use finger monitors aren’t recommended at all.

Manual blood pressure monitors

Manual models are
like the ones that might be used in your doctor’s office. They usually include an arm cuff, a squeeze bulb
to inflate the cuff, a stethoscope or microphone, and a gauge to measure the
blood pressure.

To take your blood pressure, you inflate the cuff around your upper arm. This stops the flow of blood in the artery for a short time. You place the stethoscope on the skin over the artery. As you release air from the
cuff, you listen for the sound of the blood
as it starts to flow through the artery again.

The reading on the gauge when blood flow is
first heard is the systolic pressure. The reading when blood flow can no longer
be heard is the diastolic pressure.

Ambulatory blood pressure monitors

An ambulatory blood pressure monitor is a small device that you wear throughout the day, usually
for 24 or 48 hours. It takes your blood pressure automatically.

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Why It Is Done

You may check your blood pressure at home to:

  • Find out if you have
    high blood pressure.
  • Keep track of how
    well your blood pressure medicine is working.
  • Check how
    lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and exercise, are affecting blood
    pressure. Home monitoring can help you feel more involved in and more in
    control of your health care.
  • Watch for changes in blood
    pressure that may be side effects of medicines.
  • Check for problems
    with high blood pressure during pregnancy or with
    preeclampsia. To learn more, see the topic
    Preeclampsia and High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy.

After measuring your blood pressure, your doctor may ask you to test it again when you are home.footnote 1 This is because your blood pressure can change throughout the day. And sometimes blood pressure is high only because you are seeing a doctor. This is called white-coat hypertension. To diagnose high blood pressure, your doctor needs to know if your blood pressure is high throughout the day.

So your doctor may ask you to monitor your blood pressure at home to make sure that it actually is high. You may get an ambulatory blood pressure monitor or a home blood pressure monitor. These devices measure your blood pressure several times throughout the day.

How To Prepare

Before you take your blood pressure

  • Don’t eat,
    smoke, or exercise for at least 30 minutes before
    you take your blood pressure. And don’t use any medicines
    that can raise blood pressure, such as certain nasal sprays.
  • Rest
    at least 5 minutes before you take a
    reading.
    Sit in a comfortable, relaxed
    position with both feet on the floor.
  • Try not to take your blood
    pressure when you are nervous or upset.

Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring

You do not need to do anything to prepare. The monitor will automatically take your blood pressure while you do your normal daily activities.

How It Is Done

Taking your blood pressure

Try to use the same arm for every reading. Readings may be 10 to 20 mm Hg
different between your right arm and your left arm.

Ask your doctor:

  • How often you should take your blood pressure. Your doctor may ask you to check it more often if
    your blood pressure is not well controlled or if you are taking new
    medicines or changing doses of a medicine.
  • When you should take your blood pressure. Ask if you should take it at the same time each day or at different times of the day. Blood pressure readings are usually highest in the
    morning and lowest in the evening.

At first it is a good
idea to take your blood pressure 3 times in a row, 5 or 10 minutes apart. As
you get more used to taking your own blood pressure, you will only need to
measure it once or twice each time.

The
instructions may vary depending upon the type of
blood pressure monitor you choose. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Take your blood pressure while you feel
    relaxed. Before you start, sit quietly for at least 5 minutes with both feet on
    the floor.
  • Sit with your arm slightly bent and resting
    on a table so that your upper arm is on the same level as your heart.
  • Place the blood pressure cuff on the skin of your upper arm. You
    may have to roll up your sleeve, remove your arm from the sleeve, or take your
    shirt off.
  • Wrap the blood pressure cuff snugly around your upper arm so
    that the lower edge of the cuff is about
    1 in. (2.5 cm) above the bend
    of your elbow.
  • Try not to move or talk while you are taking your blood
    pressure.

If you have an automatic monitor, follow the instructions that came with it. When you press the start button, the cuff will inflate automatically. The cuff will then deflate and the numbers on the screen will begin to drop. When the measurement is complete, your monitor displays your blood pressure and pulse rate.

To learn more about using automatic and manual monitors, see:

High Blood Pressure: Checking Your Blood Pressure at Home

How It Feels

You may feel some discomfort when the
blood pressure cuff inflates, squeezing your arm.

Risks

There is no chance of problems from this
test.

Results

Blood pressure categories for adultsfootnote 2
Blood pressure category First number (systolic) Second number (diastolic)
Ideal 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 more OR 90 or more

Your systolic and diastolic pressures are both important. Hypertension is when the systolic pressure (top number) is 130 or higher or the diastolic pressure (bottom number) is 80 or higher, or both.

In general, the lower your blood pressure, the better. For example, a blood pressure reading of less than 90/60 is healthy as long as you feel okay. Talk to your doctor if you have low blood pressure and feel lightheaded, faint, or
like you may vomit.

What Affects the Test

It is normal for blood pressure to go up and down from day to day
and even from moment to moment. Stress, smoking, eating, exercise, cold, pain, noise,
medicines, and even talking can affect it.

One high reading does not mean
you have
high blood pressure. And one normal reading may not mean you do not have high blood pressure.
It is more accurate to take the average of several readings made throughout the day than to rely on a single reading.

Some people have high blood pressure
only when they go to their doctor’s office. This is
called
white-coat hypertension. It may be caused
by stress about seeing your doctor. When you regularly check your blood
pressure at home, you may find that your blood pressure is lower when you are
not at the doctor’s office.

What To Think About

Do not adjust your blood pressure
medicines based on home blood pressure readings unless your doctor tells you
to.

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (U.S.)
www.nhlbi.nih.gov

American Heart Association
www.heart.org

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. (2015). Hypertension in Adults: Screening and Home Monitoring: Final Recommendation Statement. http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/RecommendationStatementFinal/high-blood-pressure-in-adults-screening. Accessed January 21 , 2016
  2. Whelton PK, et al. (2017). 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA guideline for the prevention, detection, evaluation, and management of high blood pressure in adults.
    Journal of the American College of Cardiology, published online November 13, 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.11.006.
    Accessed November 20, 2017.

Other Works Consulted

  • American Heart Association. (2005). Recommendations for blood pressure measurement in humans and experimental animals. Part 1: Blood pressure measurement in humans. AHA Scientific Statement. Hypertension, 45(1): 142–161.
  • Pickering TG, et al. (2008). Call to action on use and reimbursement for home blood pressure monitoring. A joint scientific statement from the American Heart Association, American Society of Hypertension, and Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association. Hypertension, 52(1): 10–29.

Credits

ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine Martin J. Gabica, MD – Family Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine Specialist Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine

Current as ofDecember 19, 2017