Most of the time, a visit to the doctor’s office begins with a temperature check, a step onto the scale and an assessment of your blood pressure. But outside of your regular doctor’s visits, how often do you think about these key indicators of your health?
As you seek to stay well at home — and take advantage of convenient virtual care options — follow these tips to feel confident monitoring your blood pressure at home.
What is high blood pressure?
When your heart beats, it pumps blood into your body to give it the oxygen and energy it needs. As the blood moves through the body, it pushes against the side of your blood vessels. The “strength” of this pushing is your blood pressure. If this pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your vessels and heart.
The top number of your blood pressure is known as systolic. This is how much pressure your blood is exhibiting against the artery wall when it beats.The bottom number of your blood pressureis diastolic. This is how much pressure your blood is exhibiting against the artery wall when it relaxes between beats.
High blood pressure is also known as hypertension. Hypertension can signal future risk for serious health problems such as heart failure, kidney failure, heart attack or stroke. It can also put unnecessary strain on your heart over time without you realizing.
In fact, high blood pressure accounts for 54 percent of all strokes and almost 50 percent of all heart disease globally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States in 2019.
How to monitor blood pressure at home
Monitoring blood pressure is especially important for:
- People who need close monitoring for the development of high blood pressure
- People diagnosed with high blood pressure or hypertension
- Individuals starting high blood pressure treatment and/or medications
- Pregnant women with elevated blood pressure
- Those who often have high readings at the doctor’s office, also known as “White coat hypertension”
The American Heart Association recommends an automatic style bicep cuff or upper arm monitor. Be sure it’s a validated monitor. Feel free to ask your local pharmacist or provider for advice.
When selecting a monitor, make sure you choose the appropriate cuff size — measuring around your upper arm will help. Having the wrong cuff size can lead to inaccurate readings.
When you’re ready, follow these blood pressure measurement instructions:
- Avoid smoking, drinking caffeinated or alcoholic beverages and exercising within 30 minutes of measurement
- Calmly rest your body on a chair and your left arm on a heart-level, flat surface for at least 5 minutes
- Make sure your feet are flat on the floor
- Place the bottom of the cuff right above the bend of your elbow
- Take up to two readings, each 1 minute apart
- Test once in the morning before taking any medications and once in the evening before eating a meal
Be sure to record your daily results in a journal. Taking one blood pressure reading is like taking a snapshot of your blood pressure at a single point in time. Keeping a blood pressure journal or log allows your provider to see the complete story and make the most informed treatment decision regarding your blood pressure and overall health.
What your blood pressure readings mean
First and foremost, if you notice that your blood pressure is high, contact your primary care physician promptly for further guidance. High blood pressure can be an indication of an underlying health condition and increase your risk for heart disease or stroke. When left untreated, high blood pressure can impact your long-term health, well-being and quality of life.
Blood pressure categories are as follows:
- Normal: Your systolic number is less than 120 and your diastolic number is less than 80
- Elevated: Your systolic number is between 120-129, and your diastolic number is less than 80
- High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 1: Your systolic number is between 130-139, and your diastolic number is between 80 and 89
- High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 2: Your systolic number is 140 or higher, and your diastolic number is 90 or higher
- Hypertensive crisis: Your systolic number is higher than 180 and your diastolic number is higher than 120 — consult your doctor immediately.
To learn more about virtual care, visit BSWHealth.com.