Above: There are benefits to checking your blood pressure at home. Here’s what you need to know. Image by succo from Pixabay.

Have you ever considered home blood-pressure monitoring? It may be an important topic to raise with your health-care provider during your next office visit.

Blood-pressure readings taken at doctors’ offices are important, but a series of regular readings taken over time at home can help medical providers better understand what is going on with a patient. For one thing, regular readings may help determine how well your blood-pressure medicine is working.

Not everyone can track their blood pressure at home, the Mayo Clinic says online. For example, if you have an irregular heartbeat, or have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (a type of quivering or irregular heartbeat), then home blood-pressure monitoring might not be able to provide accurate readings.

Still, there is increasing evidence that home readings may improve the ability to predict some problems in their early stages. And that’s when treatment may be the most effective.

Blood-pressure readings: A few FAQs to help get started

If you missed taking anatomy and physiology in school, you may feel a bit uncomfortable about taking and trying to understand your blood pressure. Here’s some information that may help get you started.

Q: Is the heart a muscle or an organ?

A: That’s a trick question. It’s both! WebMD explains it this way: “The heart is a muscular organ about the size of a fist, located just behind and slightly left of the breastbone.”

Q: What does controlling blood pressure mean?

A: “Each day your heart beats (on average) 100,000 times,” the Cleveland Clinic’s website says. It pumps blood through “a vast system of blood vessels that is more than 60,000 miles long.” If the heart is working too hard, or not hard enough, it can lead to more serious problems. Controlling blood pressure means keeping the numbers within the normal range.

Q: What do blood pressure numbers mean?

A: When contracting, the heart’s at work; but when the contraction is released, the heart briefly rests. When contracted, the systolic pressure is measured; and when at rest it’s the diastolic pressure. Those numbers look like a fraction when you write them down (such as: 120/70 or 118/84). To remember which number goes where, think about the letter “d” for diastolic and associate it with “down.” The resting rate is always “down” or under the contracting or higher number.

Q: What’s a normal blood pressure?

The following graph is updated information from the American Heart Association:

blood pressure chart

Source: Copyright American Heart Association

Q: How often should I check my blood pressure?

A: There is no fixed number for how often you should monitor your blood pressure. The frequency is likely to vary depending on decisions you make with advice from your doctor or nurse practitioner. Dr. Randall Zusman, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the division of hypertension at Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center, recommends recording the information regularly and reporting it to your doctor or nurse practitioner during physicals. “Take a reading in the morning and again at night, two or three times a week,” Zusman wrote in an online article.

Q: What sort of device is best for checking my blood pressure?

A: The American Heart Association recommends an automatic, cuff-style, bicep (upper-arm) monitor. On its website, the AHA says:

  • Wrist and finger monitors are not recommended — the readings may not be as reliable.
  • Choose a monitor that has received good ratings and reviews. Check with your doctor, pharmacist or nurse for suggestions.
  • Make sure the cuff fits — measure around your upper arm, selecting a monitor that comes with the right cuff size (most are adjustable over a wide range of sizes).

Once you’ve purchased your monitor, bring it to your next appointment. Make sure you are using it correctly and (just as important) getting the same results as their office equipment.

How to do it

When measuring your own blood pressure, Harvard Health Publishing suggests these steps to get the best results:

  • Sit with your feet flat on the floor, rest your back against the chair, and place your arm on a table or other flat surface.
  • Sit quietly for five minutes before wrapping the cuff snugly around the upper part of your bare arm.

Judi Kanne is a public health communications consultant and contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.