At-Home Blood Pressure Devices Get High Marks

Experts Say Screening Blood Pressure at Home Sometimes Better Than in Doctor's Office

Medically Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD on December 21, 2004
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 21, 2004 -- At-home blood pressure machines may do a better job of screening for high blood pressure than devices in doctors' offices, says the American Heart Association (AHA).

Nearly a third of U.S. adults -- 65 million people -- have high blood pressure. It's even more common in older adults. More than half of all Americans aged 65 or older have high blood pressure.

That means their systolic blood pressure (the first number) is at least 140 mm HG and/or their diastolic blood pressure (the second number) is 90 mm Hg or higher.

They're not the only ones with blood pressure problems. Another 25% of American adults have a borderline condition called "prehypertension."

But many people -- in all age groups -- don't know they're affected. That's dangerous, since high blood pressure is tied to serious conditions such as heart and kidney disease and stroke.

Checking blood pressure is simple. The test doesn't even require a trip to the doctor, says the AHA.

For the first time in a decade, the AHA has updated its recommendations for blood pressure screening. At-home devices fared well.

The machines were studied by heart experts including Thomas Pickering, MD, DPhil, of New York's Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. They found that proper use of the devices did a fine job of tracking blood pressure.

In fact, the machines had several advantages over those in doctors' offices. They cut the "white coat" effect, in which blood pressure spikes due to the anxiety of being in a clinical setting, eliminated the error introduced when doing manual blood pressure measurements, and the machines were also more convenient, especially for tracking blood pressure at night or throughout the day.

The report, published in the journal Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association, didn't mention specific brands. At-home blood pressure machines sell for about $50-$100.

The experts do support the use of electronic monitors that take the blood pressure in the upper arm rather than the wrist or finger.

Planning to try one? Here are some pointers for accurate results:

  • Sit in a chair and relax for a few minutes before the test.
  • Don't cross your legs or talk.
  • Place your arm at heart level.
  • Support your arm and back.
  • Use a properly sized cuff. Obese people and kids may need different sizes.
  • Place the cuff on bare skin.

Health care providers can check the devices and offer more advice on technique.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Pickering, T, Hypertension, February 2005. WebMD Medical News: "High Blood Pressure Rising, Yet Often Ignored." News release, American Heart Association.
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