If you have hypertension or are at risk for it, your doctor might recommend keeping closer tabs on your blood pressure.
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Routinely checking your blood pressure at home can help you and your doctor gauge how well treatments are working, as well as offer reassurance that your blood pressure is staying at a safe level.
With $40 to $60, you should be able to purchase a home blood pressure monitor that’s easy to use and accurate. But it’s still a good idea to bring your new monitor with you to your next doctor’s appointment to confirm that it’s giving accurate readings that closely align with your doctor’s professional-grade monitor.
Preventive cardiologist Luke Laffin, MD, suggests that anyone who’s had a recent change to their medication check their blood pressure three or four times a week. Once it’s confirmed that your medications are working, you won’t need to do it quite as frequently.
“There is some data showing that if you have hypertension but it’s relatively well controlled, a couple times a month is perfectly fine,” he says.
How to take your own blood pressure
The best time to take your blood pressure is first thing in the morning, before taking your medications, according to Dr. Laffin. “I tell people to get up, go to the bathroom, brush their teeth and then go to wherever they’re going to take their blood pressure,” he says.
That spot should be a place where you can sit up straight with your back supported, your feet flat on the ground and your arm resting at a comfortable level.
It doesn’t really matter which arm you use to take your blood pressure, Dr. Laffin says, but it’s best to use the same arm each time. (As a side note, it’s normal for your blood pressure reading to be slightly higher in one arm than the other.)
Each time you sit down to take your blood pressure, follow these steps:
- Sit at rest for at least 90 seconds.
- Push the button to take a reading.
- Sit for another 60 to 90 seconds.
- Take a second reading.
- Sit for another 60 to 90 seconds.
- Take a third reading.
- Average the three readings, and record that number in a notebook or journal.
Help your doctor help you
It’s important to keep a good record of these measurement to show your doctor, who can help determine if your medication is doing its job. Doing this will also reveal longer-term trends in your blood pressure.
Dr. Laffin recommends logging this information each time:
- Average of your three blood pressure readings
- Heart rate at the time of the reading
- Time of day it was taken
- Any other symptoms you are feeling at that time
How long does it take for a new blood pressure medicine to start working? “Oftentimes you’ll see results within a few days, but to get the peak effect, you usually have to be on medicine for 10 to 14 days,” he says.
When to call your doctor
It’s normal for blood pressure to fluctuate throughout the day, so there’s no need to panic if you get an occasional reading that seems high. “Really, we worry most significantly about blood pressure when it’s elevated for a prolonged period of time,” Dr. Laffin explains.
If your systolic blood pressure (the top number in your reading) is consistently higher than 180 mmHg, that’s something worth calling your doctor about.
“If at any time you’re having these high blood pressures and also having chest pressure, chest pain, headaches or shortness of breath, you should be seen by a doctor more urgently,” he says.
To hear more from Dr. Laffin on this topic, listen to the Health Essentials Podcast episode “Combating High Blood Pressure.” New episodes of the Health Essentials Podcast publish every Wednesday.