How To Check Blood Pressure – Are You Doing It Right?
This article will tell you what you need to know about hypertension, the 6 simple steps you need to take to accurately check your blood pressure, and how to interpret the numbers in your blood pressure reading.
Hypertension is the medical term given to high blood pressure, and how to check blood pressure properly is something millions of us should know how to do.
Millions? Is That An Exaggeration?
Unfortunately not. Millions of men and women around the world know they are suffering from hypertension, while millions more are unaware they have the problem.
For example, roughly one third of all American adults suffer from this problem. That is a staggering 78 million people.
How Can You Have This Problem And Not Be Aware Of It?
Hypertension has another name within the medical profession: The Silent Killer. There are many valid reasons for this.
Very often, specific symptoms do not show, and many who are suffering will attribute things to the fact that they are not feeling ‘quite right’ or are simply under the weather.
Make no mistake; this condition is ruthless. It is responsible for more strokes than any other and is a major player in terms of heart disease, and yet the remarkable thing is that it can be brought back under control relatively quickly once identified.
6 Simple Steps to Achieving an Accurate Blood Pressure Reading
- First, make sure you are not wearing a tight shirt or blouse. Wearing loose-fitting clothing will ensure that you are not restricting blood flow and will allow for a more accurate reading.
- Sit up straight with your back against a chair and keep your legs uncrossed on the ground. Have you noticed how the blood pressure machines at your local pharmacy always require you to sit down? That is because it is the ideal position from which to measure blood pressure.
- Roll up your sleeve, if applicable. The correct blood pressure arm position is to rest your forearm on a table with the palm of your hand facing up. You will want to rest in this position for several minutes before taking the reading to allow your body time to adjust.
- Secure the blood pressure cuff around your upper arm if you are using a conventional monitor. For finger and wrist monitors, place the cuff around the appropriate body part. In terms of which arm to check blood pressure from it is best to use your left arm if you are right handed and vice versa. The only caveat here is if your doctor has told you to use the other arm.
- Turn on your machine and check your blood pressure! Be sure to remain completely still during the reading as any movement will adversely affect the measurement results. You are still allowed to breathe though :)
- Then, wait several minutes before repeating the above steps and obtaining a new reading. It is best practice to take 2-3 readings within a 5-10 minute period and average the results to determine your blood pressure.
Additional Tips – Make Sure You Are Doing These Too!
- Utilize the user’s manual! The steps above are general guidelines but the instruction manual will have specific rules to follow for your particular BP monitor. The company has spent lots of time and money researching how to use their monitor for the best results, so you might as well follow their advice!
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and exercising at least 30 minutes before measuring your blood pressure. These factors can cause your BP to rise, which is why we recommend taking your blood pressure soon after waking up and before drinking your first cup of joe!
- Take multiple readings on the same day. In addition to taking a reading after waking up, take a second reading in the evening. This is necessary due to fluctuations in your blood pressure throughout the day.
- Be sure to average and track your readings over a period of time. If you are computer savvy, whip up a spreadsheet to track your blood pressure over time. Alternatively, just keep a notebook next to your device for easy tracking. Most modern automatic blood pressure monitors even have built-in memory.
- Don’t think that one high reading means you have hypertension. However, if you are consistently seeing a high reading, it might be time to consult your doctor.
Now that you know the steps to achieve an accurate blood pressure reading, read on to find out what exactly the numbers shown on your blood pressure monitor mean.
Exactly How Is Blood Pressure Measured?
This is taken in a heartbeat! Your systolic blood pressure reading is a measure of the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats due to the contraction of the heart muscle.
The diastolic blood pressure represents the pressure of the blood in your arteries when your heart rests between beats. The systolic and diastolic numbers are measured in millimeters of Mercury (abbreviated mm Hg).
Check out this short, informative video below by Dr. Donna Arnett, President of the American Heart Association, for a quick summary of the meaning behind the numbers in your blood pressure reading and what the optimal blood pressure reading is.
How to Read and Classify Your Blood Pressure
Your BP reading consists of two numbers written as a ratio. A typical reading is 120/80, which is read as 120 over 80.
The top number is the systolic reading, while the bottom number is the diastolic reading. The systolic reading is always higher than the diastolic reading.
There are 5 categories of blood pressure levels as defined in this table from the American Heart Association:
Ideally, the only reading you want to see is the first one (Normal), where your systolic reading is below 120 mm Hg and your diastolic reading is less than 80 mm Hg.
If you consistently fall within any of the other categories, then you potentially have hypertension and will likely need to take steps to reduce your blood pressure.
Those steps are usually to improve your lifestyle in terms of your diet and your exercise regimen.
In case you are like me and have trouble remembering what reading refers to high blood pressure, the cheesy little video below from the American Heart Association will help reinforce the fact that a systolic reading of 140 or greater means you have high blood pressure and that a reading of 140/90 is too high.
Don’t Let The Silent Killer Creep Up On You – Take Action!
Hypertension can be fatal, but the positive news is that once you understand how to check blood pressure correctly and carry out this simple procedure on a routine basis you can (and will) stay one step ahead of it.
To start checking your blood pressure on a regular basis, you first need to purchase your own personal monitor to have at home. Head over to our Reviews page to decide which blood pressure monitor is best for you!