The first step to avoiding the dangers of high blood pressure is to know if you have it. Hypertension can cause problems that are devastating and deadly.
Checking your pressures regularly is the best way to know if you’re at risk. Follow these simple steps to learn if your numbers are too high or just right and how to make sure you’re staying on track.
How to Take Blood Pressure at Home
Taking your blood pressure at home or when you’re relaxed out shopping may actually be more accurate than numbers taken at your doctors office. This is because many people can feel some anxiety or pain at a doctors office that can cause their numbers to temporarily rise.
Follow these 5 steps when checking your blood pressure:
- Wait for at least 30 minutes after drinking caffeine, exercising, or smoking.
- Next, sit quietly for at least 5 minutes.
- Position yourself so you're sitting upright with your back straight and supported by a chair with both of your feet flat on the ground.
- Rest your arm on a flat surface (such as a table) at the level of your heart.
- Wrap the cuff around your arm just above your elbow without any clothes covering the area of cuff placement.
It’s also recommended to try to check your pressures at around the same time each day.
Download your personal blood pressure log here.
Record all numbers in a blood pressure log so you can show them to your doctor. Make sure to include in the log anything that may have interfered with the reading, like if you're feeling stressed or anxious, recently drank caffeine or if you just exercised.
Many blood pressure monitors will also include a measurement of your heart rate which you should also record for your doctor.
How to Choose the Right Blood Pressure Cuff
Cuffs come in different sizes and finding the size that is right for you is an important part of getting an accurate blood pressure reading.
The inflatable part of the cuff is called the ‘bladder’. The bladder should encircle about 80% of your upper arm in an appropriately fitting cuff. A cuff that is too big or too small can result in numbers that are higher or lower than your real pressure.
You can check pressures from either arm. While there may be slight differences between the arms, you should see your doctor right away if you consistently note a difference of >10 mm Hg between the two.
What is the Best Blood Pressure Monitor ?
Getting a blood pressure monitor at home is an easy way to keep track of your numbers.
Validated upper arm monitors that are fully automatic are the best choice for most people. There are many other options on the market.
Monitors that take the pressure from other parts of your body like your wrist or finger aren’t recommended as they are not as accurate.
Manual monitors also aren’t recommended unless you have special training.
You can bring your monitor to your next doctor appointment to make sure it's working correctly. You can always ask a pharmacist or your doctor if you have additional questions about the best blood pressure monitor for you.
The American Heart Association recommends regular home blood pressure monitoring for everyone with hypertension (1).
How to Interpret Your Blood Pressure Measurements
Your blood pressure measures how much pressure is going against your blood vessels as your heart beats.
The top number (aka systolic blood pressure) measures how much pressure is against your vessels when the heart is contracting. And the bottom number (aka diastolic blood pressure) measures how much pressure is against your vessels when your heart is relaxing.
Our blood pressure can change throughout the day. It often rises if we are feeling stressed, anxious, drink caffeine or have pain. These transient rises aren’t usually dangerous to us.
What matters most is what our blood pressure averages throughout the day.
So one high reading doesn’t mean you necessarily have hypertension. This is why taking your pressures regularly and following the above 5 steps to getting an accurate reading is so important to discovering what your average blood pressure is.
Blood Pressure Chart
|Blood Pressure Reading|
|Normal||< 120 / < 80|
|Borderline High||120-129 / < 80|
|Stage 1 Hypertension||130 - 139 / 80 -89|
|Stage 2 Hypertension||> 139 / > 89|
Blood Pressure Range
Hypertension is a health condition that is diagnosed when there are consistently high blood pressure readings.
You have stage 1 hypertension if your systolic pressure is greater than 129 or your diastolic pressure is greater than 79.
You have stage 2 hypertension if your systolic pressure is greater than 139 or your diastolic pressure is greater than 89.
If your numbers are less than 120/80, then you’re keeping your blood pressure under control.
If your blood pressure is ever higher than 180/120 mm hg on multiple readings, seek medical attention right away.
Some people have high blood pressure readings only at the doctor's office, and in they are often labeled as having ‘white coat hypertension.’
Why Good Blood Pressure Matters
Even though we can’t feel our blood pressure is high, it puts stress on our body overtime and causes damage to our vessels and organs. People with hypertension are also at risk for more acutely dangerous conditions that are often referred to as a hypertensive crisis and include life threatening events such as stroke, heart attacks, and pulmonary edema.
Keeping your blood pressure under control is the best way to avoid all of these dangerous complications. Eating a heart healthy diet and making other healthy lifestyle choices can get your numbers back in check.
To learn more about how to keep your blood pressure controlled read this article on the 7 Steps to Stopping Hypertension.
Stay on top of your daily blood pressure and manage your health with this free blood pressure log. Complete with tips for better tracking and lowering your blood pressure.