A few summers ago, I was sitting with my family on the porch when my dad began to feel abnormally warm and agitated. He had no chest pain and no trouble breathing, but to be safe, he decided to check his blood pressure. It was high — so high, in fact, that within five minutes, he made the decision to go see his cardiologist. Within the next 24 hours, he was diagnosed with coronary heart disease so severe that he would need open heart surgery. Within 48 hours, he had the surgery that saved his life.
Coronary heart disease, which occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries and blocks blood flow to the heart, is often called silent heart disease because a person could live without symptoms for years. This is why annual check-ups are so important. It’s also why I firmly believe that every household should have a blood pressure cuff. My dad’s turned out to be essential.
The Benefits of Having a Blood Pressure Cuff
An at-home blood pressure cuff might seem unnecessary, but research shows that monitoring your BP outside of a doctor’s office is crucial. Many people have something called “white coat hypertension” — high BP readings in medical settings, but normal readings at home. Others have “masked hypertension” — normal BP readings in a medical setting, but high readings at home. In general, white coat hypertension is usually caused by anxiety, while masked hypertension usually happens when a patient gets more consistent about taking medication in the weeks leading up to the appointment.
Research shows that white coat and masked hypertension are both linked to a greater risk of heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes. So, monitoring your BP outside of the doctor’s office can give you a better understanding of your cardiovascular health. You’ll be able to tell when your readings are below or above average, and you can report your findings to your doctor. From here, your doctor will discuss next steps — such as diet or medication changes — to address your BP levels before they get worse. Indeed, research shows that self-monitoring and appointment follow-ups correlate with lower BP numbers (though more research is needed to prove this theory).
What to Know Before You Buy One
There are three main types of blood pressure monitors: automatic wrist cuffs, automatic upper arm cuffs, and manual upper arm cuffs. I prefer automatic monitors over manual ones. Why? Manual monitors require coordination, as you would need to manually pump the cuff with one hand and listen with a stethoscope. Since automatic cuffs are easier to use, and many are in the same price range as manual cuffs, we think automatic is a better investment. Automatic cuffs range from about $14 to $100, and many are HSA and FSA eligible.
There is debate over which cuff type is best: While the American Heart Association states that upper arm monitors are more accurate, a wrist cuff is helpful in some circumstances. (My dad swears by his automatic wrist cuff, and likes its convenience for traveling.) A wrist monitor may be the better choice if the upper arm monitor doesn’t fit well, or if you have a condition that makes the upper arm cuff painful or unsafe.
The key difference between wrist and upper arm cuffs: A wrist monitor takes measurements at your radial artery, or the artery where your wrist meets your hand. An upper arm monitor takes measurements at your brachial artery. Some people have higher systolic BP (the top number) in their radial artery than their brachial artery, which is why an upper arm monitor may be more accurate.
How To Use a Blood Pressure Cuff
Though using a blood pressure cuff seems easy enough (you’ve probably watched healthcare professionals use them plenty of times), it’s important to know the steps and follow them carefully. Otherwise, you risk inaccurate readings.
Below are the step-by-step processes for using a wrist cuff and an upper arm cuff. A few important notes: If you recently drank coffee or tea, exercised, or took a warm bath or shower, wait 30 minutes before measuring your blood pressure. (Caffeine and exercise will elevate your BP, while a warm bath or shower will lower it.) And if you take blood pressure medication, ask your doctor about the best time of day to measure your BP.
How To Use an Automatic Upper Arm Blood Pressure Cuff
- Sit at a table in a comfortable position, and relax your breathing. Rest your arm on the table, palm facing up.
- With your skin bare or thinly clothed, pull the cuff up onto your left arm, about an inch above your elbow. (The tube connecting to the BP monitor should be in line with the middle of your inner arm.)
- Tighten the velcro strap on the cuff, making sure you can still fit one or two fingers between your arm and the cuff.
- With your left arm resting on the table, turn on the BP monitor. Wait in this position 30 seconds, or until the device shows a steady reading.
How To Use an Automatic Wrist Blood Pressure Cuff
- Take off any bracelets, jewelry, or watches, and keep your phone away from the device. (These objects could affect the cuff’s electromagnetic field.)
- Sit at a table in a comfortable position, and relax your breathing.
- Place the cuff on your left wrist. (For some cuffs, the screen should be in line with your palm. For others, the screen should be in line with your thumb. See the directions on your specific device.)
- With your elbow on the table, slowly lift your hand until the device is level with your heart.
- Turn the device on. Wait in this position 30 seconds, or until the device shows a steady reading.
Recommended Blood Pressure Cuffs
With price, accuracy, ratings, and comfort in mind, these are our top choices for automatic blood pressure cuffs (all around or below $50):
- A&D Medical Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor (Buy from Amazon, $41.89). The monitor comes with a five-year warranty, and the cuff comes with a two-year warranty. This product is HSA and FSA eligible.
- Beurer BM50 Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor (Buy from Amazon, $33.99). This cuff stores up to 100 readings for two users. It also has a talking feature if you have a visual impairment.
- OMRON 7 Series Wireless Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor (Model BP6350) (Buy from Walmart, $53.99). The OMRON wrist monitor is clinically validated and, like the A&D and Beurer monitors, can detect irregular heartbeats as well. You can store up to 90 readings on the device.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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