Home blood pressure monitors, which provide a better snapshot of your average blood pressure level than office measurements, are available for purchase in drugstores or online. Some insurance plans may cover the cost of these devices. Expect to pay between $20 and $60, though some are more expensive. Since the accuracy of these devices can vary, have your doctor check yours by comparing its readings with those of his or her in-office device. Then, ask your doctor to check it yearly. When you shop, here’s what to look for:
An automatic model. Automated digital blood pressure monitors are more accurate and easier to use than manual devices that require the user to squeeze a rubber bulb to inflate the cuff. All you need to do is wrap the cuff around your upper arm and press a button to inflate it. The monitor takes your blood pressure and displays the result. Digital devices also have a memory feature for tracking your readings. Some monitors can send readings to your computer or smartphone.
An arm cuff. Arm-cuff models are usually more accurate than wrist-cuff models. If you choose a wrist cuff, be sure to have it checked for accuracy at your doctor’s office. Some people who are obese may not be able to properly wrap an arm cuff around their upper arm and may have to use a wrist cuff.
A good fit. Be sure the cuff fits around your upper arm; cuffs come in different sizes. Use the cuff’s markings that indicate proper fit. A too-large or too-tight cuff will result in an inaccurate reading.
A seal of approval. Check to see whether the device has been clinically validated using protocols established by one of these organizations: the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, the British Hypertension Society, or the European Hypertension Society. A validated monitor means that the model has gone through a series of tests to confirm its accuracy. A universal standard is currently under development and expected to eventually replace existing protocols.
This article first appeared in the September issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.