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How to Get an Accurate Blood Pressure Reading at Home

written by Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse Written by Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse
Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 10 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

Read more posts by this author.
reviewed by Renee Rulin, MD, MPH Reviewed by Renee Rulin, MD, MPH
Renee Rulin, MD, MPH

Renee Rulin, MD, MPH

Dr. Rulin is a Board Certified Family Physician with experience treating adults and children of all ages. She completed a residency at Brown University and received a Masters in Public Health from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Rulin enjoys being outdoors as much as the New England weather will allow, enjoys reading and cooking, and practices yoga and meditation.

March 8, 2022 Read Time - 6 minutes

How to Get an Accurate Blood Pressure Reading at Home

Blood pressure can accurately be taken at home with some informed guidance. Blood pressure is one of the vital signs used by health care providers worldwide as part of a complete assessment. Blood pressure tells us about the pressure in your arteries when your heart is relaxed and contracted.

How to Choose a Home Blood Pressure Monitor

The American Heart Association recommends an automatic, cuff-style, bicep (upper-arm) blood pressure monitor, and offers the following suggestions:

  • Wrist and finger monitors are not recommended because they yield less reliable readings.
  • Choose a monitor that has been validated. If you are unsure, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice or find options at validatebp.org.
  • When selecting a blood pressure monitor for a senior, pregnant woman, or child, make sure it is validated for these conditions.
  • Make sure the cuff fits – measure around your upper arm and choose a monitor that comes with the correct size cuff.

    Source: American Heart Association

Once you have the right device, follow these steps: 

  • Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground
  • Breathe normally and stay calm
  • Secure the cuff to your upper arm
  • Place the cuff directly on your skin, not over your clothing
  • Sit and relax for about 2-5 minutes with the cuff on.
  • Start the device 
  • Record your blood pressure measurement

Most devices have a button to press in order to inflate the cuff. The measurements will read digitally on the monitor. When the cuff fills with air from the air tube, you will feel the cuff tighten around your arm. It will feel as if someone is gently squeezing your arm. The squeezing should not hurt. Once the measurements are taken, the air is let out from the cuff, automatically deflating it.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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What Else Can Affect  Blood Pressure Measurement?

  • First, having a full bladder can temporarily increase your blood pressure, so before you begin, go to the bathroom and empty your bladder. Otherwise, you may have an inaccurate blood pressure measurement.
  • Secondly, when you are sitting in the chair, back supported, make sure to have your feet flat on the ground and not crossed. Crossing your legs can affect the blood pressure measurement, making it inaccurate.
  • Next, make sure the cuff fits your arm properly. Depending on your upper arm circumference, you may need a small, medium, or large cuff. Poorly fitted cuffs can result in inaccurate measurements; either too high or too low.
  • No talking while the blood pressure monitor is calculating your blood pressure.
  • If you think your initial blood pressure measurement is incorrect, relax for 1 minute and take your blood pressure again.
  • Anxiety, stress, and physical exertion prior to taking your blood pressure can result in false readings. Sometimes, people get anxious when taking blood pressure measurements, resulting in falsely high readings. There is even a medical phenomenon called “white coat syndrome” in which people only have high blood pressure when measured in a doctor’s office.
  • Physical exertion can cause elevated blood pressure measurements. When you exercise, your heart rate and blood pressure naturally increase to pump more blood throughout your body. If you are up and moving 30 minutes before taking your blood pressure, this could affect the accuracy. Blood pressure should be measured when your body is in a comfortable place, both physically and mentally.

Using a Blood Pressure Cuff

Cuffs are used with blood pressure monitors in order to detect the flow of blood in your artery. The cuff is able to detect pressure from the air tube inflating the cuff around your arm. As the cuff inflates and then slowly deflates, the monitor is able to measure blood pressure. 

Cuffs come in various sizes to fit all types of arms. It is important to make sure the cuff fits your arm comfortably. 

The length of the cuff should be about 80% and width should be about 40% of your upper arm. Most cuffs will have an “artery line” marked on the cuff, which helps with proper positioning of the cuff. This line is used to position the cuff over the brachial artery, the artery in your upper arm. Ask your doctor or nurse to help you with correct positioning the first time you use the device.

According to the American Heart Association, the following are the appropriate cuff sizes for designated arm circumference size:

  • Arm circumference 22 to 26 cm: use a small adult cuff
  • Arm circumference 27 to 34 cm: use an adult cuff
  • Arm circumference 35 to 44 cm: use a large adult cuff
  • Arm circumference 45 to 52 cm: use an adult thigh cuff

After you have secured the cuff around your arm, the bottom edge of the cuff should be positioned about one inch above the antecubital fold, which is the fold you make in your arm when you bend your elbow.

How Frequently Should You Take Your Blood Pressure?

If you are taking medication for hypertension, ask your prescriber about the optimal frequency for you. Do be sure to store the readings in the monitor or app and/ or write them down. 

Some individuals at risk for hypertension – for example, pregnant women, or people with diabetes or obesity  – may want to check their blood pressure periodically as well. 

Usually, you check your blood pressure in the morning, before taking your high blood pressure medications. If you take more than one blood pressure medication, your doctor may want you to take your blood pressure more frequently during the day. 

Checking and keeping track of your blood pressure for several days or longer will help your doctor understand your average blood pressure, and decide which medication is working, or if you can stop taking a certain medication.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

What is a Normal Blood Pressure? 

Blood pressure measurement consists of two numbers: systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number). For example, 120 over 80 means that your systolic blood pressure is 120, while your diastolic blood pressure is 80. Both numbers are considered when measuring your blood pressure.

Source: American Heart Association

Talk to a Doctor About Blood Pressure

Talk to a PlushCare doctor if you have questions about your heart health or blood pressure. High blood pressure often goes unnoticed because it shows no symptoms; but high blood pressure puts you at an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, and other serious conditions. Take control of your health by making an appointment today to speak with a PlushCare doctor.

You do not need a prescription to buy a home blood pressure meter. Most pharmacies sell blood pressure monitors. Devices are usually displayed near over-the-counter medications. You should consider the cost, size, and how easy the meter is to use. Some devices cost more than others, which is why some insurance companies will help pay for your device. Blood pressure monitors are also covered under health savings accounts, flexible spending accounts, and health reimbursement arrangements. Ask your PlushCare doctor to help you find the right device.


Read More About Blood Pressure


Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

American Heart Association. High Blood Pressure. Accessed March 8, 2022 at https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure

American Heart Association. Monitoring Your Blood Pressure at Home. Accessed March 8, 2022 at https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measure Your Blood Pressure. Accessed on March 1, 2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/measure.htm 

Northuis, Carin A.; Murray, Thomas A.; Lutsey, Pamela L.; Butler, Kenneth R.; Nguyen, Steved; Palta, Priyae; Lakshminarayan, Kamakshia. Body mass index prediction rule for mid-upper arm circumference: the atherosclerosis risk in communities study, Blood Pressure Monitoring: February 2022 – Volume 27 – Issue 1 – p 50-54. Accessed on March 1, 2022 from https://journals.lww.com/bpmonitoring/Fulltext/2022/02000/Body_mass_index_prediction_rule_for_mid_upper_arm.9.aspx 

Pickering, T. G., Hall, J. E., Appel, L. J., Falkner, B. E., Graves, J., Hill, M. N., Jones, D. W., Kurtz, T., Sheps, S. G., & Roccella, E. J. (2005). Recommendations for blood pressure measurement in humans and experimental animals: part 1: blood pressure measurement in humans: a statement for professionals from the Subcommittee of Professional and Public Education of the American Heart Association Council on High Blood Pressure Research. Circulation, 111(5), 697–716. Accessed on March 1, 2022 at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15699287/ 

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