Good Reading

Getting your blood pressure taken is a routine part of any medical visit. But if you have high blood pressure, your healthcare provider might want you to monitor it more frequently — from the comfort of your own home.

While it might seem a little intimidating at first, keeping track of your blood pressure on a daily basis has numerous benefits. First, research shows that people who monitor their blood pressure at home are more likely to reach their blood pressure goals than those who don’t.

But doing so also gives your provider a better picture of how well controlled your blood pressure may be. Self-monitoring can reveal whether your medications are working and whether levels fluctuate away from the medical setting, which will help your provider determine the best treatment for your condition. Both the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Society of Hypertension recommend home monitoring for those with high blood pressure.

Taking It: When and How
For most people with high blood pressure, taking two or three readings in the morning and again at night a few times a week should be sufficient, according to advice from the Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

Readings should be taken a few minutes apart to ensure accuracy. Monitoring too often, however, should be avoided, as it can lead to anxiety over minor fluctuations. If major changes occur, it’s best to consult your provider.

The AHA recommends testing at the same time each day and recording the results using a printable or online tracker, or storing the results in the monitor’s memory if possible. This makes it easier to show the readings to your provider during checkups.

The AHA also advises that you:

* Refrain from smoking, drinking caffeinated beverages or exercising 30 minutes prior to taking your blood pressure.

* Find a quiet place to take the reading. Sit in a hard-backed chair with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Rest your arm on a flat surface, such as a table, at heart level.

* Have your provider demonstrate how to use your home monitor properly so that you are sure you are using the device correctly.

What the Numbers Mean
There are two numbers that make up a blood pressure reading: the systolic (upper number) and the diastolic (lower number). A person with normal blood pressure will have a systolic reading of less than 120 mm Hg and a diastolic reading of less than 80 mm Hg.

Someone with hypertension (high blood pressure) will have a systolic reading of more than 140 mm Hg and a diastolic reading above 90 mm Hg.

Improving Your Numbers
There are many things you can do to keep your blood pressure in check. Sometimes, lifestyle changes will suffice. For example, stopping nicotine use (tobacco products and e-cigarettes), maintaining a healthful diet, not drinking alcohol excessively and exercising regularly can reduce blood pressure levels.

Sometimes, though, lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to improve the numbers and your provider may wish to prescribe medications.