Hypertension has achieved epidemic level numbers: over a third of all people over the age of 20 in the US have high blood pressure. Prevention, treatment and management of this condition has become a key initiative for the Department of Health and Human Services. A simple way that everyone can pitch in is to monitor their blood pressure at home.
Home BP monitoring can aid in early diagnosis, particularly if you do not visit your doctor regularly. It is also crucial if you have a slightly elevated blood pressure, a condition referred to as pre-hypertension, or an existing condition such as diabetes or kidney problems that might contribute to hypertension.
Even if you do visit a doctor frequently to have your blood pressure checked, home monitoring is useful as a hedge against “white coat hypertension.” That's the surprisingly common circumstance of a patient having an elevated blood pressure in the presence of a doctor. You may only ever know your “true” blood pressure if you read outside the presence of a doctor.
By monitoring your blood pressure at home you will be able to keep more granular tabs on the benefits of your diet and exercise program. Did you just give up salt? Resolve to hit the gym more in the new year, or make some other change to your exercise regimen? A routine of monitoring your blood pressure regularly can provide you with some indication of how these changes are affecting your body, and inform your decision to make future diet and exercise modifications.
You don't need a prescription for a home blood pressure monitor known as a “sphygmomanometer,” but you need to have a little insight to make the right purchase decision. The key component of a home BP monitor is the cuff, and properly fitting the cuff to your upper arm is crucial if you expect accurate readings. A doctor or nurse can tell you what size you will require.
Certainly not all sphygmomanometers are created equal, but fortunately an organization called the Dabl Educational Trust maintains an exhaustive list online of models, specs and recommendations. At least once a year, you should bring your home monitor into your doctor's office to ensure it is properly calibrated with the office machine.
You should also take the time to have a doctor or nurse properly train you on the use of your home BP monitor.
Once properly equipped and instructed, take your blood pressure readings twice a day, at the same time each day. The first reading should come in the morning before you have eaten or taken any medication, and the second in the evening.
It is very important to understand that using a home sphygmomanometer is no substitute for regular visits to your doctor. Under no circumstances should you change your medications or dosage based upon your own interpretation of your BP monitor data.