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Your blood pressure provides clues about the amount of work your heart is doing to pump blood through your arteries. It’s one of your body’s vital signs.
Having high blood pressure, known in medical terms as hypertension, can be harmful to your health in many ways. Over time, it can damage your vital organs including your heart, kidneys, and brain. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on your blood pressure and to take steps to manage it before it causes problems.
One way to keep track of your blood pressure is to monitor it at home using an automated blood pressure machine, or by doing it manually. This article will walk you through how to check your blood pressure, along with tips to help ensure accurate readings.
Blood pressure is measured using two different readings. Here’s what they mean:
- Systolic pressure. The first reading is called your systolic pressure. It’s the first or top number in a reading. Systolic pressure measures the pressure inside your arteries when your heart is contracting to pump blood.
- Diastolic pressure. The second reading is your diastolic number. It’s the second or bottom number. Diastolic pressure measures the pressure inside your arteries when your heart relaxes between beats.
For example, you may see blood pressure written as 117/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). In that case, the systolic pressure is 117 and the diastolic pressure is 80.
Normal blood pressure is considered less than 120/80 mm Hg. This number can vary for many reasons.
Higher numbers in either measurement can be a sign that your heart is working extra hard to pump blood through your arteries. This may be the result of an external trigger, like if you’re feeling stressed or scared. When this happens, it can cause your blood vessels to get narrower.
Higher blood pressure measurements could also be caused by an internal force, such as the buildup of plaque or fatty deposits in your arteries. This can also cause your blood vessels to become narrower, which, in turn, can increase your blood pressure.
If you’d like to check your own blood pressure at home, it’s best to first check with your doctor or healthcare professional about how they’d like you to monitor and record it. For example, they may prefer you to check your blood pressure:
- before or after you take a certain medication
- at certain times of the day
- when you’re stressed or feeling dizzy
The simplest way to measure your own blood pressure is to purchase an automated cuff. Automatic blood pressure machines are easy to use, and they’re helpful if you have any hearing impairments.
These types of blood pressure cuffs have a digital monitor that will display your blood pressure reading on a screen. You can purchase these online, at most grocery stores, or at a health food store.
You should also have a notebook to use as a blood pressure log. This can be helpful for your doctor. You can also
Automated blood pressure machines can give you a different reading than a manual blood pressure reading.
Bring your cuff to your next doctor’s appointment so you can compare the reading from your cuff to the reading that’s taken at your doctor’s office. This can help you calibrate your machine and identify the blood pressure levels you should look for on your own device.
Even if you check your blood pressure at home, your doctor will still want to manually check it during appointments.
To manually take your blood pressure, you’ll need:
- a blood pressure cuff with a squeezable balloon and an aneroid monitor, also known as a sphygmomanometer. An aneroid monitor is a number dial.
- a stethoscope
If possible, enlist the help of a friend or family member, because it can be difficult to use this method on your own.
Here are the steps to taking your blood pressure at home:
- Before taking your blood pressure, make sure you’re relaxed. Position your arm straight, palm facing up on a level surface, such as a table.
- Place the cuff on your bicep and squeeze the balloon to inflate the cuff.
- Using the numbers on the aneroid monitor, inflate the cuff about 20-30 mm Hg over your normal blood pressure. If you don’t know your normal blood pressure, ask your doctor how much you should inflate the cuff.
- Once the cuff is inflated, place the stethoscope with the flat side down on the inside of your elbow crease, toward the inner part of your arm where the major artery of your arm is located. Be sure to test the stethoscope before using it to make sure you can hear properly. You can do that by tapping on the stethoscope. It’s also helpful to have a high quality stethoscope.
- Slowly deflate the balloon as you listen through the stethoscope to hear the first “whoosh” of the blood flowing. Record or remember that number. This is your systolic blood pressure.
- You’ll hear the blood pulsing, so keep listening and allow the balloon to slowly deflate until that rhythm stops. When the rhythm stops, record that measurement. This is your diastolic blood pressure.
- You’ll record your blood pressure as the systolic over the diastolic, such as 115/75.
To get the most accurate blood pressure reading, remember the following tips:
- Make sure the blood pressure cuff is the right size for you. Cuffs come in different sizes, including pediatric sizes if you have very small arms. You should be able to comfortably slip one finger between your arm and the cuff when it’s deflated.
- Avoid smoking, drinking, or exercising 30 minutes before taking your blood pressure.
- Be sure to sit with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Your feet shouldn’t be crossed.
- Take your blood pressure at different times of the day and record exactly what time each blood pressure measurement is taken.
- Rest 3 to 5 minutes before taking your blood pressure and a few extra minutes if you’ve recently been very active.
- Take at least two readings every time to make sure they’re correct. The readings should be within a few numbers of each other.
- Take your blood pressure at different times throughout the day over a period of time to get the most accurate readings and ranges.
- Bring your own at-home monitor to your doctor’s office at least once a year to calibrate it and make sure it’s working correctly.
Although there are apps that promise to check your blood pressure without using equipment, this isn’t an accurate or reliable method.
However, there are apps that can help you track your blood pressure results. This can be helpful in identifying patterns in your blood pressure. Your doctor may use this information to determine if you require blood pressure medications.
Some examples of free apps to monitor blood pressure include:
- Blood Pressure Monitor – Family Lite for iOS. With this app, you can enter your blood pressure, weight, and height, as well as track the medications you take.
- Blood Pressure for Android. This app tracks your blood pressure and features several statistical and graphical analysis tools.
- Blood Pressure Companion for iOS and macOS. This app allows you to track your blood pressure as well as view graphs and trends on your blood pressure readings across several days or weeks.
These apps can help you quickly and easily track your blood pressure readings. Measuring your blood pressure regularly on the same arm can help you most accurately track your blood pressure readings.
Blood pressure is a very individualized vital sign, which means it can be very different for each person. Some people have naturally low blood pressure all the time, while others may run on the higher side.
In general, a normal blood pressure is considered anything less than 120/80 mm Hg. Your own personal blood pressure will depend on your:
- medications you’re taking
- any medical conditions you have
If you do register a blood pressure reading of 120/80 mm Hg or over, wait 2 to 5 minutes and recheck. If it’s still high, talk with your doctor to rule out hypertension.
Blood pressure chart
While everyone is different, the
|Normal||less than 120||less than 80|
|Elevated||120-129||less than 80|
|High blood pressure stage 1 (hypertension)||130-139||80-89|
|High blood pressure stage 2 (hypertension)||140 or higher||90 or higher|
|Hypertensive crisis (call your local emergency services)||higher than 180||higher than 120|
When determining the category you fall into, it’s important to remember that both your systolic and diastolic numbers need to be in the normal range for your blood pressure to be considered normal.
If one number falls into one of the other categories, your blood pressure is considered to be in that category. For example, if your blood pressure is 115/92, your blood pressure would be considered high blood pressure stage 2.
If your blood pressure ever goes over 180 systolic or over 120 diastolic after a repeat reading, seek emergency medical care right away.
Monitoring your blood pressure can help you and your doctor identify any issues early on. If treatment is needed, it’s better to start it early before damage has occurred in your arteries.
Treatment may involve lifestyle changes, such as:
- losing weight
- avoiding smoking
- eating a heart-healthy diet
- cutting back on dietary salt (sodium)
- reducing alcohol consumption
- exercising for at least 30 minutes most days of the week
- managing stress in healthy ways
Sometimes you’ll need to take blood pressure medication, such as:
- thiazide-like diuretics
- calcium channel blockers
- angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
It’s also important to work with your doctor to manage any preexisting health conditions that can contribute to high blood pressure, such as:
There are two ways to measure your blood pressure at home. The simplest way is to use an automated blood pressure cuff, which you can purchase online or at most grocery stores or drugstores. This method is recommended by the AHA for at-home blood pressure monitoring.
You can also measure your blood pressure manually. This is a more complicated option. You’ll need a blood pressure cuff with a squeezable balloon and an aneroid monitor as well as a stethoscope in order to measure your blood pressure this way.
If you’re unsure of how to measure your blood pressure properly, your healthcare professional can show you how to do it.
It’s also important to share your blood pressure readings with your doctor, especially if your blood pressure is outside of a normal range. This will help your doctor identify any issues early on and determine the right type of treatment for you.