Buying a Home Blood Pressure Monitor? 6 Things You Need to Know

Our expert outlines what's necessary, and what's not

Maybe your blood pressure has been creeping up over time, or you’re starting treatment for hypertension. So your doctor suggests you buy a home blood pressure monitor to help keep track between office visits. Simple enough, right?

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But a quick check online reveals hundreds of different models — and even a bunch of apps for your smartphone. How do you even start to sort through all that without, well, spiking your blood pressure?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Heart and hypertension specialist Luke Laffin, MD, has six tips on what you need — and what you don’t need — in a home blood pressure monitor.

1. Size matters

The size of the cuff is the most important feature to check when you’re selecting a blood pressure monitor, Dr. Laffin says.

The size relates to the circumference of your upper arm. A cuff that doesn’t fit properly on your arm may give you inaccurate readings.

The 2017 High Blood Pressure Clinical Practice Guidelines, which both the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association endorse, recommends these sizes: 

  • Adult small: Arm circumference of 22 to 26 centimeters (about 8.5 to 10 inches).
  • Adult average: Arm circumference of 27 to 34 centimeters (about 10.5 to 13 inches).
  • Adult large: Arm circumference of 35 to 44 centimeters (about 13.5 to 17 inches).

2. Choose arm cuffs over wrist cuffs

You can purchase a blood pressure monitor at any drugstore or online. No matter where you buy yours, Dr. Laffin recommends getting a monitor with an automatic cuff that wraps around your upper arm. It’s called a brachial blood pressure monitor.

“Don’t get one where you need a stethoscope,” he says. “An automatic cuff is best. And if you’re over age 50, avoid cuffs that go around your wrist.”

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Wrist cuffs are likely fine if you’re under 50, he says.

3. Don’t overpay

Forget the bells and whistles. They boost the cost of the monitor and are often unnecessary.

Sure, Bluetooth connectivity and storing your readings in the cloud are cool features, but you don’t really need them.

“You shouldn’t have to pay more than $40 to $60 for an appropriate, physician-approved blood pressure monitor that will do the job just fine,” Dr. Laffin says.

4. Avoid smart apps

If you look at any app store, you’re likely to find dozens of blood pressure measurement apps for your smartphone.

“These don’t work and have not been rigorously tested,” Dr. Laffin says bluntly.

Certain apps claim to measure your blood pressure through pulse wave velocity, which essentially looks at the wave form in the artery of your finger.

“But those are often inaccurate,” he adds. The last thing you want is to obtain false information and be falsely scared — or falsely reassured — about your blood pressure numbers.”

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5. Check for accuracy

Most monitors you find in a drugstore or online are fine, Dr. Laffin says. But it doesn’t hurt to take it to your doctor’s office and check yours against the office monitor.

“If the systolic blood pressure (the top number) on your cuff is within 10 points of the monitor, then it’s generally accurate,” he says.

Most home blood pressure machines last for about two or three years. After that, check it at your doctor’s office annually to make sure it’s still accurate.

6. Take three

There’s one extra feature you might consider to help boost a monitor’s accuracy: taking three measurements automatically.

Some monitors do this each time you check your blood pressure. They take a first reading; wait 30 to 60 seconds and take a second reading; then wait 30 to 60 more seconds, and take a final measurement.

“This is helpful because it averages your three readings, which probably more closely reflects your actual blood pressure than the first number alone,” Dr. Laffin says.

Now you’re ready to wade in and find the blood pressure monitor that’s right for you — without all the stress of selection overload.

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