If you’re one of the 65 million Americans with high blood pressure, you’re probably on medication and a modified diet aimed at reducing your hypertension and getting your blood pressure back down to a healthy level. To keep tabs on your progress, you’ll need to check your blood pressure regularly, and many patients find it helpful to get a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
Why test at home? For one thing, doctor’s visits are expensive and relatively infrequent. You can check your blood pressure yourself every day if you want to, from the comfort of your own home.
And “comfort” is important. Because seeing a doctor can be a stressful experience, it sometimes creates false readings in your blood pressure. By testing it at home, you can get a more accurate reading of what your day-to-day blood pressure is like.
The basic, old-fashioned type of blood pressure machine — where you put the strap around your arm and squeeze the bulb to inflate it — is called an aneroid monitor. They’re usually around $20 or $30, so they’re affordable, and they’re easy to use once you learn how. There are also digital monitors that measure your blood pressure automatically, making them faster and easier to use. Naturally, you pay a little more for this convenience; these devices range in price from $30-$100.
Both kinds have advantages and disadvantages. The aneroid version is cheaper, but the digital monitor is easier to use. The digital monitor can have its accuracy thrown off more easily, though, simply by moving your body during testing; the aneroid monitor is usually much more stable than that. Also, many digital models are designed to be used on the left arm only, which makes them impractical for some people.
Overall, however, the digital monitor is easier and more accurate. It deflates automatically, its numbers are easy to read, and some models even print out your results for you. It is also far less easily damaged than the aneroid monitor, which is a rather complex device with several parts.
There are some monitors on the market that take your blood pressure not on the upper arm but on the wrist or finger. So far, most of these are to be avoided. Not only do they cost more — usually upwards of $100 — but they tend to be inaccurate, too! The patient’s body position and temperature affect wrist and finger devices much more than the upper-arm devices, resulting in bad readings. Stick with the upper arm.
After buying a blood pressure monitor for your own use, you should take it with you to your next doctor’s appointment and have him or her (or the nurse) check it for accuracy against the device they have in the office. Take the monitor in for a “check up” every 12 months or so, to make sure it’s still accurate. Store it in a safe place, away from heat, and check it occasionally for leaks or cracks in the tubing.
By monitoring your blood pressure yourself, you can report your findings to your doctor and keep tabs on your progress as you try to reduce hypertension. It’s a way of staying involved in your own health, rather than letting your doctor do everything for you — and by staying involved, you’ll improve your health much faster.
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