The Right Way to Test Your Blood Pressure at Home

Blood pressure readings from the doctor’s office don’t paint the whole picture.

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You hop on your bathroom scale regularly to check your weight. You check your fridge weekly before you head to the market. You may even check your pedometer every couple hours to make sure you’re on track for your 10,000 steps a day. You do a lot to keep track of your health, but there’s one thing you may be forgetting: your blood pressure.

“It’s important for patients to test their blood pressure at home,” says Michelle Weisfelner Bloom, MD, cardiologist at Stony Brook University Medical Center. “It allows them to see their numbers, and by seeing their numbers they feel more inclined to be compliant, meaning take their medications.”

Knowing your blood pressure numbers is incredibly important, whether you have high blood pressure or not. For one thing, hypertension is often called the “silent killer,” because most patients don’t feel any symptoms of high blood pressure, says Rachel Bond, MD, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. High blood pressure is also one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.


Why It’s Important to Check Blood Pressure Often

When you’re getting your blood pressure checked at the doctor’s office, the reading you see is only part of the picture. “Just because your blood pressure is high at the doctor’s office, does not necessarily mean you have high blood pressure,” says Satjit Bhusri, MD, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

It’s normal for your blood pressure to fluctuate throughout the day, even if your blood pressure is at a healthy level. Your blood pressure may rise when you’re stressed, during exercise, or after your morning cup of coffee, and then fall again when you’re at rest.

Cardiologists have special names for these type of situations. If you get an elevated blood pressure reading at your doctor’s office, but outside the office your blood pressure is normal, cardiologists call that “white coat hypertension.” On the other end of the spectrum, some patients might have a normal reading at the doctor, but have high blood pressure in their regular life, which is called “masked hypertension.”

That’s why cardiologists need multiple readings from different times a day to paint your entire blood pressure picture. “Once we get the numbers we put it together then we can see where your body truly stands and whether or not you have essential hypertension,” says Dr. Bhusri.


Tips for Checking Your Blood Pressure at Home

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend that you check your blood pressure levels regularly, both at the doctor’s office and at home. Take note of these essential tips for checking your blood pressure at home, and be sure to avoid these common blood pressure reading mistakes.

  • Buy a blood pressure monitor, but ask your doctor for help first. Before you head to the store, ask your doctor what blood pressure monitors he or she recommends, says Dr. Bloom. “It can be very, very overwhelming when you walk into the pharmacy. In general we try to stay away from the finger monitors or the wrist monitors because we find that they’re not as accurate,” she says.
  • Check your blood pressure at least twice a day. “The first blood pressure reading should be first thing in the morning, it’s going to be your lowest,” says Dr. Bond. “As you go through the course of the day, stress comes on, you’re walking, you’re exercising, your blood pressure should probably get a little bit higher.”
  • Before you check your blood pressure, check your situation. “You want to make sure when you’re testing your blood pressure, you’re in a situation where you’re not going to get falsely elevated readings,” says Dr. Bloom. If you just ran a mile, had a shot of espresso, or got in a heated argument with your significant other, you might want to hold off until you’re calmer, she says.
  • Don’t mess with your blood pressure medication regimen. Dr. Bhusri says his patients will sometimes skip taking their blood pressure medication if they get a low reading, or take more if their blood pressure is high. Not good. “That’s not the way blood pressure works. Blood pressure medications are not as-needed medications,” says Dr. Bhusri. Stick to the medication schedule prescribed by your doctor, no matter what your home BP reading says.

Remember: “Don’t be afraid of the numbers you get. We’re not treating a number, we’re just getting a number to get data,” says Dr. Bhusri. Recording and reporting your blood pressure numbers helps your doctor determine the next course of action to help you manage your blood pressure, like a medication adjustment or making more lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure.