You don't always have to go to your doctor's office to have your blood pressure checked; you can monitor your own blood pressure at home. This is especially important if your doctor recommends that you monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis.
Tips for Checking Your Own Blood Pressure
There are certain factors that can cause blood pressure to temporarily rise. For example, blood pressure normally rises as a result of:
- Cold temperatures
- Certain medicines
Try to avoid as many of these factors as you can when taking your blood pressure. Also, try to measure your blood pressure at about the same time each day. Your doctor may want you to check your blood pressure several times during the day to see if it fluctuates.
Before Checking Your Blood Pressure
- Find a quiet place to check your blood pressure. You will need to listen for your heartbeat.
- Make sure that you are comfortable and relaxed with a recently emptied bladder (a full bladder may affect your reading).
- Roll up the sleeve on your arm or remove any tight-sleeved clothing.
- Rest in a chair next to a table for 5 to 10 minutes. Your arm should rest comfortably at heart level. Sit up straight with your back against the chair, legs uncrossed. Rest your forearm on the table with the palm of your hand facing up.
Step-by-Step Blood Pressure Check
If you purchase a manual or digital blood pressure monitor (sphygmomanometer), follow the instruction booklet carefully.
The following steps provide an overview of how to take your left arm blood pressure on either a manual or digital blood pressure monitor. Simply reverse the sides to take a blood pressure in your right arm.
1. Locate your pulse
Locate your pulse by lightly pressing your index and middle fingers slightly to the inside center of the bend of your elbow (where the brachial artery is). If you cannot locate your pulse, place the head of the stethoscope (on a manual monitor) or the arm cuff (on a digital monitor) in the same general area.
2. Secure the cuff
Slide the cuff onto your arm, making sure that the stethoscope head is over the artery (when using a manual monitor.) The cuff may be marked with an arrow to show the location of the stethoscope head. The lower edge of the cuff should be about 1 inch above the bend of your elbow. Use the fabric fastener to make the cuff snug, but not too tight.
Place the stethoscope in your ears. Tilt the ear pieces slightly forward to get the best sound.
3. Inflate and deflate the cuff
If you are using a manual monitor:
- Hold the pressure gauge in your left hand and the bulb in your right.
- Close the airflow valve on the bulb by turning the screw clockwise.
- Inflate the cuff by squeezing the bulb with your right hand. You may hear your pulse in the stethoscope.
- Watch the gauge. Keep inflating the cuff until the gauge reads about 30 points (mm Hg) above your expected systolic pressure. At this point, you should not hear your pulse in the stethoscope.
- Keeping your eyes on the gauge, slowly release the pressure in the cuff by opening the airflow valve counterclockwise. The gauge should fall only 2 to 3 points with each heartbeat. (You may need to practice turning the valve slowly.)
- Listen carefully for the first pulse beat. As soon as you hear it, note the reading on the gauge. This reading is your systolic pressure (the force of the blood against the artery walls as your heart beats).
- Continue to slowly deflate the cuff.
- Listen carefully until the sound disappears. As soon as you can no longer hear your pulse, note the reading on the gauge. This reading is your diastolic pressure (the blood pressure between heartbeats).
- Allow the cuff to completely deflate.
You'll get the most accurate reading if your arm is held straight.
If you released the pressure too quickly or could not hear your pulse, DO NOT inflate the cuff again right away. Wait one minute before repeating the measurement. Start by reapplying the cuff.
If you are using a digital monitor:
- Hold the bulb in your right hand.
- Press the power button. All display symbols should appear briefly, followed by a zero. This indicates that the monitor is ready.
- Inflate the cuff by squeezing the bulb with your right hand. If you have a monitor with automatic cuff inflation, press the start button.
- Watch the gauge. Keep inflating the cuff until the gauge reads about 30 points (mm Hg) above your expected systolic pressure.
- Sit quietly and watch the monitor. Pressure readings will be displayed on the screen. For some devices, values may appear on the left, then on the right.
- Wait for a long beep. This means that the measurement is complete. Note the pressures on the display screen. Systolic pressure (the force of the blood against the artery walls as your heart beats) appears on the left and diastolic pressure (the blood pressure between heartbeats) on the right. Your pulse rate may also be displayed in between or after this reading.
- Allow the cuff to deflate.
If you did not get an accurate reading, DO NOT inflate the cuff again right away. Wait one minute before repeating the measurement. Start by reapplying the cuff.
4. Record your blood pressure.
Follow your doctor's instructions on when and how often you should measure your blood pressure. Record the date, time, systolic and diastolic pressures. You should also record any special circumstances like any recent exercise, meal, or stressful event.
At least once a year, and especially after you first purchase your blood pressure monitor, bring your monitor with you to your doctor's visit to check the machine’s accuracy. This is done by comparing a blood pressure reading from your machine with one from the doctor's office machine.