Everyone's blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day, but doctors take readings to try to see what a person's average blood pressure is at rest. Many people suspect the readings taken at their doctor's office are artificially high because they are nervous. This phenomenon is called "white-coat" hypertension and is fairly common.
Inflated readings are more than just a nuisance. They can prompt a physician to order stronger medications than necessary. So many doctors urge their patients to use home blood pressure monitors.
The American Heart Association says people who monitor regularly at home tend to have their blood pressure under better control. Home monitoring can give you immediate feedback about the changes you are making or medicine you are taking.
Many health insurance policies decline to cover them, but the devices cost as little as $30-$40. The American Heart Association recommends only models with a cuff that goes around your arm, not the wrist or finger models.
Take your monitor to your next doctor's visit to verify that it's measuring accurately. After that, check its accuracy once a year at your doctor's office.
Check your pressure at the same time of day, as blood pressure varies throughout the day. Take at least two readings -- one minute apart -- each time you monitor. Record both readings in a notebook or chart.
Read on for our simple tips to get the most accurate blood pressure reading, whether you're at home or at the doctor's office.
Don't drink coffee or smoke a cigarette for 30 minutes before taking a blood pressure reading. Either one can spike your blood pressure 10-15 points.
Tip: Smoking alone is a major cause of high blood pressure. Hypertension is more common in people who smoke heavily.
Wear short sleeves so your arm is exposed. Go to the bathroom before your blood pressure test as well; a full bladder changes your reading.
Before the test, sit in a chair for five minutes with your back supported and your feet flat on the ground. Rest your arm on a table at the level of your heart. (Don't have your pressure recorded while you are perched on an examination table.)
Interesting study: Women in a small study had readings averaging 8 percent higher at doctors' offices than at home. Readings for men in the study averaged 6 percent higher at doctors' offices.
If you're getting your blood pressure taken at the doctor's office, ask the doctor or nurse to tell you the results. If you think the reading is too high, ask him or her to take a second reading after you've had a chance to calm down. You're more likely to be relaxed at the end of a visit.
Know the numbers:
Normal blood pressure: below 120/80 mmHg
Prehypertension: between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg
Stage 1: between 140/90 mmHg and 159/99 mmHg
Stage 2: 160/100 mmHg or higher
If your pressure is unusually high in your doctor's office, track your blood pressure more closely at home.
The American Heart Association's recommendations for home monitoring are:
-- Purchase monitors with cuffs that fit on the upper arm (either manual or automatic inflation). Wrist monitors are not recommended. Be sure to place the cuff 1/2 inch above the crease of your elbow.
-- Take two or three readings at a time, one minute apart, while resting in a seated position. Your arm should be supported, with the upper arm at heart level, and your feet on the floor, with back supported and legs uncrossed.
You may also want to ask your doctor to order ambulatory home monitoring for 24 hours. If your doctor approves, you'll go home wearing a device that measures your blood pressure approximately every 20 minutes during the day and every 30-45 minutes at night.
This one-page printer-friendly tracking sheet will help you keep track of your blood pressure and cholesterol readings.