Should You Be Checking Your Own BP? Yes.

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I am a big believer in people checking their own blood pressures from time to time. In fact, I carry little cards around in my lab coat pocket and give them to my patients to carry in their wallets so they can write down the BPs they measure.

I don’t care where people check their BPs. Some of my patients have home BP monitors and others check theirs at the grocery or drug store. Read this post to learn why checking your own blood pressure is a good idea.

Hypertension (AKA High Blood Pressure) – “The Silent Killer”

High blood pressure is called the silent killer because it has no symptoms. You will not know your blood pressure is high unless you measure it.

It puts you at risk for a stroke, heart attack, kidney or eye damage, and heart failure. Detailed information about high blood pressure – what causes it, why it’s dangerous and how to treat it – can be found in my book, A Nurse Practitioner’s Guide to Smart Health Choices. The purpose of this post is to explain why checking your BP yourself is a good idea.

What the Experts Say

In the January 3, 2009 issue of the British Journal of Medicine there was an article titled “Blood pressure self monitoring: questions and answers from a national conference”. A group of experts reviewed all the medical literature on self monitoring blood pressure and then got together and reviewed and summarized all the data.

Here are some of their findings:

  • Self monitoring of blood pressure is helpful both in diagnosing and managing high blood pressure.
  • Multiple measurements of blood pressure provide a more accurate picture of patients’ “true” blood pressure.
  • Self monitored readings are lower than those obtained in the office.
  • Self monitored blood pressure predicts stroke better than office readings.
  • Patient need to know how to properly monitor their BPs and have their equipment checked for accuracy in the office.
  • Self-monitored blood pressure may lead to better control of BP.
  • Some patients’ BP is always high in the office but not at home (called “white coat hypertension”). Self monitoring allows for better management of those patients’ “true” BP.
  • Normal BP fluctuations can sometimes cause anxiety for patients if they have not been educated about normal BP ranges.

What Should Your BP Be?

Normal BP

  • Below 120/80 mm Hg

BPs to Discuss with Your Provider

  • Prehypertension: 120/80 to 139/89 mm Hg

Abnormal BPS

  • Stage 1 Hypertension: 140/90 to 159/99 mm Hg
  • Stage 2 Hypertension: above 160/100 mm Hg

10 Tips for Self-Monitoring Your BP

  1. When measuring your BP you should be seated, legs uncrossed and your measured arm should be supported.
  2. Whether you buy your own BP cuff or use the ones in grocery and drugs stores, make sure the cuff is the proper size and in the proper postion.
  3. Always write down your readings and take them with you every time you see your health provider.
  4. Avoid automatic monitors that measure at the wrist – they are less accurate.
  5. Take you monitor with you when you see your health provider and have it checked for accuracy against the measurement they take in the office.
  6. Take your BP and different times of the day and night and expect it to fluctuate.
  7. Don’t take your BP too often (once daily or a few times a week is enough). If you take it too often, just the act of measuring will start to increase your readings.
  8. If your BPs are consistently above 135/85 see your health provider.
  9. If you are on medication for high blood pressure, take it faithfully. It won’t work if you don’t take it. See my post on BP meds here.
  10. If you want to purchase your own cuff, here are the 4 top rated automatic ones according to reviews in Consumer Reports in September 2008. There are many others besides these, so shop around. You can read reviews online and and get user feedback on models you are interested in.
  • ReliOn HEM-741CREL (Wal-Mart) $40
  • Omron HEM-711AC $90
  • CVS by Microlife Deluxe Advanced 344534 $100
  • Omron Women’s Advanced Elite 7300W $100

Do you have a story to tell about how checking your blood pressure alerted you to a problem you never know you had or prevented developing a problem you might have had if you didn’t check your own BP?

This information is offered for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat. For that please seek direct care from a health professional.

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2 comments so far. (Post your own)

#1 | On March 05, 2009, Liz Wheeler said:

New York City distributes “Take Care NY” cards. We take BPs on our mobile health unit and record them on this card. Then we advise the clients to check their own BPs in the drug store or supermarket and use the card to record them. Then tell them to take the card to their health provider. This is all in an effort to educate them and to lend some validity to their telling the provider that their BP is high. I have had clients tell me that their doc just blew them off when they said they had a high reading.

#2 | On April 05, 2009, Carla Mills said:

Hi Liz,

I believe when NPs and RNs join together with patients to learn about and get serious about controlling health risks (like high blood pressure) and preventing chronic diseases (like diabetes) we will finally start to see a dramatic decline in catastrophic events (like strokes and heart attacks). That’s why I founded Maverick Health.

Thanks for your comment.


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