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How to Measure Your Blood Pressure at Home

Although measuring your blood pressure yourself is one of the most common, least complicated health-care procedures, it pays to do it right. Here, the experts from Harvard Medical School tell you how you can get the most accurate reading possible.

It might seem hard to choose among the differing home blood pressure monitors that are available, but for the best accuracy, the Harvard experts recommend one with a cuff for the upper arm that automatically inflates and records the pressure. The American Heart Association, according to Harvard, doesn’t recommend monitors that use only wrists or fingers for reading. The ideal model also keeps readings for a week or two, and that makes record-keeping easier.

The Harvard experts recommend that you support your arm at heart level, wrap the cuff around your bare upper arm, and follow the directions for your machine.

But buying the right machine isn’t enough – you need to know the correct way to measure your blood pressure. Otherwise, you’ll risk getting a reading that’s too high or too low.

The inflatable cuff should cover at least 80 percent of your upper arm, the Harvard experts say.
Measure your blood pressure first thing in the morning, before you’ve taken any blood pressure medicine. Take it again in the evening, and do those two measurements every day for a week. Then you can follow the plan your physician has suggested, or do a reading one or two days a month.

Harvard’s recommendations for each time you take a blood pressure reading:

*Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, and don’t smoke, during the 30 minutes before the test.

*Sit quietly for five minutes. Make sure your feet are on the floor and your back is supported.

*When taking your measurement, support your arm so your elbow is at the level of your heart.

*Wrap the cuff over bare skin.

*After you’ve deflated the cuff, wait one minute and take a second reading. If the readings are close, average them out. If not, take a third reading and average the three.

*Don’t panic if a reading is high. Relax for a few minutes and try again.

*Keep a record of your blood pressure readings and the time of day they are taken.

Even though keeping a home record of your blood pressure won’t cure hypertension, the Harvard experts say, it will help control one of the biggest factors in stroke, heart attack and heart failure.

For more health reports from Harvard, visit Harvard Health Publications.