Blood pressure monitors: all you need to know

One of the best ways of learning about your blood pressure is to use a monitor at home. However, there are a number of monitors available, so buying and using a good one can be quite confusing for many of us.

Regular use of a monitor at home helps to show that any medicines or lifestyle changes are having the desired effect in bringing your blood pressure down. Keeping a record of the results can help you understand what happens to your blood pressure as you go about your daily life, while it can also help some people feel that they have more control over their condition.

Measuring at home can also show some more realistic results as some people might be more relaxed there than they may be with their GP or nurse.

Are home monitors right for me?

While using blood pressure monitors at home are great for some people, they don't suit everybody. Some people can feel more anxious, not less, when using them, and find themselves taking measurements far too often. It's a good idea then before you buy one to consider which camp you think you'll be in.

What type of monitor should I use?

There are a number of different blood pressure monitors available, but the easiest to use and most accurate monitors are digital. You should also find one that will measure your blood pressure on your upper arm and not your wrist or finger as they will provide a more accurate result.

When selecting your blood pressure monitor, you should check the packaging to make sure it has says it has been 'clinically validated' for accuracy by the British Hypertension Society. You should also ensure that the upper arm cuff fits correctly because if it doesn't, your monitor will give incorrect results. Most monitors will have medium sized cuffs when you buy them (32-45 cm or 12.8-18 inches) so you may need to order a smaller or larger cuff if required.

Blood pressure monitors can also vary hugely in price, with some having additional features such as in-built memory. These can sometimes be helpful, but they aren't necessary for an accurate measurement.

It's also important that you re-calibrate your blood pressure monitor at least once every two years, otherwise there is a risk your results may not be accurate. In most cases, this needs to be done by the manufacturer, so there is likely to be a fee for this service.

Getting an accurate reading

  • Don't test your blood pressure just after you've eaten a big meal, or within 30 minutes of drinking caffeine or smoking. It also helps to empty your bladder before testing yourself
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing so you can push the sleeve up comfortably Always use the same arm when you test yourself, as different arms can provide different results
  • Rest for around five minutes before your test, and don't test yourself if you are feeling anxious. When you do use your monitor, rest your arm on a table or another firm surface, and keep both feet flat on the floor
  • Ensure your arm is supported, and the cuff is at the same level as your heart. Keep your arm relaxed, as tensing it will provide a different reading
  • Take two or three readings, and don't round your results up or down. It's important that you keep accurate records as they can potentially affect any medication your doctor prescribes to you.


General tips for successful blood pressure monitor usage

When you first get a blood pressure monitor, it is often useful to test yourself every morning and evening every day for the first week. Your first day's results are unlikely to be accurate, but by the end of the week, you'll have a useful idea for what your blood pressure is like normally. You'll then be able to cut your readings back to perhaps once a week, or whatever your doctor or nurse advises is best for you. It is always advisable that you talk to your doctor or nurse before you start testing yourself.

If you are moved onto a new medicine or a new dosage, you may want to increase the regularity of your testing again so you can see if the medication is working properly.

It is important that you test yourself at the same time of the day to ensure your comparisons are accurate. Many people choose to test themselves just after they wake up or just before they go to bed.

Finally, take your blood pressure monitor in when you go to see your doctor so they understand that your results are accurate, and that you are using it correctly.