For many, being able to monitor blood pressure from home plays an important role in maintaining optimal health. Whether you’ve had high readings during a doctor’s visit or you’re experiencing symptoms of high blood pressure—there are many reasons you may want to test at home.
For correct readings, it’s important to not only consider the accuracy of your blood pressure device but also understand the guidelines your doctor recommends for at-home testing.
Benefits of testing blood pressure at home
The American Heart Association recommends those with high blood pressure (hypertension) regularly monitor their blood pressure at home and schedule regular follow-up visits with a healthcare provider. Regular at-home monitoring is also recommended for those at increased -risk for high blood pressure, including:
- People starting treatment for high blood pressure
- Pregnant women with hypertension and/or preeclampsia
- Individuals with risk factors for high blood pressure, such as obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes
At-home testing may provide more accurate results for those who experience white coat syndrome—a term used to describe a change in blood pressure due to anxiety and nervousness associated with seeing a doctor.
Types of at-home blood pressure monitors
There are two indirect blood pressure monitoring methods that are commonly used in consumer testing.
Oscillatory Blood Pressure Monitors
Oscillatory blood pressure devices provide automated blood pressure readings by measuring the vibrations in the arterial wall caused by blood flowing through an artery between systolic and diastolic pressures.
This method is used in most automated blood pressure monitors on the market today. In recent years, it’s become increasingly popular in healthcare clinics and for at-home testing.
Auscultatory Blood Pressure Monitors
The auscultatory method uses a stethoscope and a sphygmomanometer (inflatable cuff and manometer) to manually determine blood pressure.
This is often considered the traditional method of measuring blood pressure. However, the widespread ban of mercury sphygmomanometers and accuracy issues have resulted in a slow decline in its use.
Are these blood pressure monitors accurate?
Unfortunately, there has been some speculation regarding the accuracy of at-home blood pressure monitors A recent study shows that clinicians can feel confident about the accuracy of consumer blood pressure devices if the devices are validated and less than 4 years old, but over the last several years standards were put in place to assess the accuracy of these devices.
What accuracy credentials should you look for?
Be sure to verify that your blood pressure monitor has the appropriate accuracy credentials. Some organizations with accuracy standards include the:
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- European Society of Hypertension (ESH)
- Association of the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI)
- British Hypertension Society (BHS)
- International Organization of Standardization (ISO)
Factors that can affect blood pressure results
When taking your blood pressure measurements at home, it’s important to remember that several factors can affect the accuracy of your results.
Some common factors that may affect your readings include:
- Drinking caffeine before testing: Caffeine is a stimulant that increases activity in the brain and nervous system. In some people, caffeine consumption can temporarily increase blood pressure. For accurate measurements, we recommend avoiding caffeinated beverages at least 30 minutes before testing.
- Smoking before testing: Smoking causes an immediate increase in blood pressure. It also increases the risk of developing chronic hypertension (high blood pressure). It is suggested that you not smoke for at least 30 minutes before your blood pressure test to ensure accurate measurements.
- Exercising before testing: It’s normal for your blood pressure to be elevated immediately following a workout. In most cases, it should gradually return to normal within a few hours. Because of this, it’s important to wait at least 30 minutes after finishing a workout to take your blood pressure.
- Testing with jackets or restrictive clothing: Wearing bulky or restrictive clothing can temporarily raise your blood pressure measurements. This includes tightly rolling your sleeves up while testing. For accurate results, consider wearing a short-sleeved shirt while taking your measurements.
What to do when testing blood pressure at home
- Record your BP readings at specific times of day
It’s normal for your blood pressure to fluctuate throughout the day. It will typically be lowest when you are sleeping and then rise as the day progresses, peaking in the afternoon.
For consistent readings, take measurements around the same time each day and after you have been sitting and relaxing for at least 5 minutes. Choose a time that works with your schedule and make testing part of your daily routine. It might also be beneficial to understand your daily blood pressure changes by testing many times throughout the day.
- Make sure the device is the right fit
When taking your blood pressure measurements, consider the following to ensure accurate results:
- Cuff size
A properly sized blood pressure cuff is important for accuracy. A cuff that’s too large or small can cause inaccurate measurements.
- Arm cuff or wrist cuff
Upper arm cuffs are more accurate than wrist cuffs; however, wrist cuffs may offer an alternative option for people who are unable to use the upper arm cuffs or who have limited arm or hand mobility.
- Testing posture
Rest your arm at the level of your heart and sit comfortably with your legs and ankles uncrossed and your back supported.
Discuss your blood pressure history with your doctor
Learning your blood pressure values is just the first step. Regularly keeping track of can be an effective way to monitor your health, as well as prepare for your next visit with your doctor. Sharing these results with your care team can help you establish a treatment plan that’s right for you.
These appointments provide the perfect opportunity to talk about your health concerns, receive guidance on lifestyle modifications, and discuss your overall health. Plus, your doctor will use these results to determine if your blood pressure falls within a healthy range. If you have questions about taking accurate readings at home, talk to a healthcare professional about your options.