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Blood Pressure Monitors

Medical professionals recommend checking your blood pressure at least annually and more often if you have related medical problems. Accurately measuring your blood pressure is best done by a qualified medical professional, but with proper equipment, you can check it yourself at home as often as you want. More frequent checks may help your doctor diagnose emerging medical problems (especially cardiac-related).

What your blood pressure (BP) means

The heart uses pressure to pump blood through the arteries and veins of your body. The amount of pressure in your veins is measured at two points:

  • when your heart is pumping (called the systolic pressure), and
  • when your heart is at rest (called the diastolic pressure).

A number is assigned that represents the systolic (pumping) over the diastolic pressure (resting) pressure (for example, 120/80).

When your BP is out of range

Generally,blood pressure increases with age (your doctor can tell you what your normal BP range should be). Doctors also look at the range of numbers in your BP and whether and how fast it is changing. For instance, if a person's BP should be 120/80 and it is 190/100, he is experiencing high blood pressure. If it is only 80/50, it is considered low. Furthermore, the lower number (diastolic) can be more telling than the upper one (systolic). Systolic pressure rises when a person is excited or exercising, but the lower number (diastolic) should be largely unaffected because it represents the amount of pressure when the heart is idle. High diastolic pressure could lead to a stroke or heart attack. After adjusting for external factors, your blood pressure should be reasonably constant.

Taking your BP at home

The best way to read your blood pressure is to have it done by a medical professional with a sphygmomanometer (the real name of a BP cuff that wraps around your upper arm and a stethoscope for listening for a heartbeat below the cuff). Using a sphygmomanometer on oneself is nearly impossible to do correctly, though some "D-ring" models are designed for exactly that.

The better alternative, if you want to take your BP alone, is to buy an automated BP cuff. These automated cuffs have a pump that inflates the cuff with air, automatically deflates the cuff as it measures your BP, and then displays the results on a large readout. Two nice features of automatic cuffs: many can store a history of your readings to show a trend and can also tell you your heart rate (pulse). Automatic BP cuffs can give reasonably accurate readings, but there are some cautions. Certain medical conditions can cause inaccurate readings (ask your doctor) and the automatic BP cuffs should be checked against a real sphygmomanometer for accuracy at least annually.

Finally, it is important that your BP cuff be sized right for your arm. If your arm size is too slim or large, the cuff won't read correctly or even at all. Some elderly people may find a child's cuff fits better than the normal adult cuff.

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