Blood pressure readings: Give yourself the gift of reliable data

Posted by Al Boyle
On March 3, 2024

“Heartbeat

I’m looking for a heartbeat”

 

Heartbeat
Don Johnson
Album: Heartbeat (1986)

Have your blood pressure readings ever surprised you?

Most, but not all, people who’ve shared their surprise with me were unpleasantly surprised.

Maybe a little white-coat syndrome, or battling an illness, or reasons that escaped them.

I know I’ve had unpleasant surprises, and they serve as a reminder that how good I think I feel may not always be representative of how I’m doing.

I come from a family with a history of heart disease. Though my lifestyle is quite different from theirs, I still have the genetic aspect to deal with.

So, I monitor my blood pressure. As consistently as I should? No. Fell out of the habit when I was on painkillers prior to my back surgery.

Will I be getting back into the habit?

“You betcha!”

 

Marge Gunderson, voicing the catchphrase the permeates the Coen Brothers’ classic
Fargo (1996)

With great data comes great power.

There’s a reason your social media feed is unique. They want you to stay, and the longer you stay, the more data the platforms have to understand how to make you stay even longer.

Now, imagine when data could benefit you: You’re not feeling right, and it concerns you enough to visit your primary care doctor or cardiologist.

Without data or an extended period, they’ll be relying on anecdotal evidence because you can’t pinpoint anything you’ve done differently.

Or, you could pull up your tracking info on your smartphone and show them your blood pressure results over an extended period.

If you’re gonna DIY, though, you need to do it right.

Select a validated home blood pressure monitor

When I’m considering important purchases, I check reviews across a range of review sites to see which products show up most consistently.

Automated cuff-style monitors for the upper arm were among the most recommended when I bought mine.

You can bring it to your doctor’s office to compare your results to theirs.

Ensure proper cuff placement and fit

It needs to fit snugly around the upper arm without being too small. You can measure your arm’s circumference to determine which cuff size to order.

Place the cuff on bare skin

Placing the cuff over clothing puts a barrier between your pulse and the device.

Curb these activities

Avoid these 30 minutes before taking your blood pressure:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking caffeinated beverages
  • Exercising
  • Urinating

Proper position is key

Sit with your back straight and supported, feet flat on the floor, and your arm supported at heart level.

Take five

“Pressure pushing down on me

Pressing down on you, no man ask for”

 

Under Pressure
David Bowie
Released as a single (1981)
Also released on Queen’s Hot Space album (1982)

Relax for five minutes before taking your pressure. I like to focus on my breathing and calm my mind during this time.

Take multiple readings

Your blood pressure can fluctuate significantly within a short time span.

Take two readings with a short pause between, and then note the average value.

There may also be value in taking readings from both arms, as a study indicated differences in blood pressure between arms may suggest uneven circulation and underlying health concerns.

Be consistent with timing

Try to take your blood pressure at roughly the same time each day. Fewer variables make it easier to pinpoint trends worth monitoring.

From the heart

It wouldn’t be practical for your doctor’s office to ensure these conditions prior to taking your blood pressure.

That’s why your heart’s health depends on you to be proactive about exercising and gathering meaningful data.

Live a lifestyle that strengthens your heart, making it easier for it to pump the blood your body needs.

And take your blood pressure the right way, however often you take it.

Resources

https://www.heart.org/en/news/2020/05/22/how-to-accurately-measure-blood-pressure-at-home

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings/monitoring-your-blood-pressure-at-home

https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/hypertension/are-you-sure-you-re-accurately-measuring-bp-here-s-how-know

https://www.uclahealth.org/news/why-you-should-have-your-blood-pressure-checked-in-both-arms

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